Conserving an alpine enigma

Southern mountain caribou recovery in four national parksFootnote *

What’s the issue?

Two southern mountain caribou wearing coloured collars.
Pregnant southern mountain caribou are released into the safety of the maternity pen to increase calf survival as part of the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project. Photo: © Rob Buchanan

Mysterious and rarely seen, the southern mountain caribou of Banff, Glacier, Jasper and Mount Revelstoke national parks are ghost-like enigmas. Highly adapted to the alpine environment, the species needs large swaths of mountainous terrain, undisturbed old forest habitat, an abundance of lichen to eat and relative freedom from predators. But conditions are changing and mountain caribou are declining in turn. Deer, elk and moose have become more common in the parks, which has attracted predators (wolf, bear) and increased the mortality of caribou – especially their vulnerable calves. Disturbing caribou during the critical winter season is also known to stress them. Backcountry recreation (skiing, snowshoeing) can unintentionally push caribou off their favoured habitats, causing them to use energy reserves and lowering their chance of survival. Winter recreation trails are also used by wolves, further increasing the chance of predation. If this secretive species is to survive, we need to better understand their needs, carefully manage their habitat and boost the population. We will also likely need a bit of luck.

What’s our approach?

  • Collaborate with provincial and local stakeholders to develop and implement conservation actions.
  • Monitor caribou and wolf populations to determine size and movement patterns.
  • Support the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project penning pregnant females to improve calf survival.
  • Restrict access to important habitat during sensitive times.
  • Connect with Canadians using new and traditional media; engage visitors and volunteers in caribou conservation.

What’s been accomplished?

  • Consulted with Indigenous groups and stakeholders on caribou conservation; finalized multi-species action plans for Banff, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke and Jasper national parks.
  • Collected population and movement data on caribou (using scat, aerial surveys) and wolves (using cameras, GPS collars).
  • Collaborated with community partners and the Splatsin (Yucwmenlúcwu) to improve calf survival in the Columbia North herd (from about 25 to 43 percent, 2015–2017).
  • Deployed interpreters and enforcement staff to increase visitors’ compliance with winter closures at Maligne Lake in 2016–2017.
  • Raised awareness about caribou conservation (reached 100,000 people) through the What’s the Connection? travelling exhibit, volunteer opportunities and educational programs.

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