Public consultation on caribou conservation breeding
Jasper National Park
Now available online: A report on what we heard during consultations about the conservation breeding program between April 1 and September 2, 2022.
Parks Canada is moving forward with a conservation breeding program in Jasper National Park. Guidance from experts in caribou ecology and conservation breeding, discussions with provincial jurisdictions, feedback from Indigenous partners, stakeholder and public consultations and a detailed impact assessment informed this decision.
The questions, concerns and recommendations received during formal consultations in the spring and summer of 2022 were used to refine and strengthen the proposal and impact assessment.
Although formal consultations on the conservation breeding program have ended, Parks Canada will continue to engage and work together with Indigenous and government partners, stakeholders and the public on caribou recovery in Jasper National Park.
Southern mountain caribou is one of six species identified by the Government of Canada as a priority for conservation action. This priority status is based on their ecological, social, and cultural value to Canadians, and because their recovery can significantly support other species at risk and overall biodiversity within the ecosystems they inhabit.
Without intervention, the Tonquin and Brazeau herds will disappear
Program planning phases
Research and development
Scientific review – January 2021
Planning stage – 2021 - 2022
Detailed Impact Assessment and consultations – 2022
Design and construction – 2022 – 2025
First capture of wild caribou to bring into captivity – 2025
First release of captive-bred caribou into the Tonquin herd – 2026
Tonquin herd reaches 200 animals – 2031+
Brazeau and Maligne caribou herds reach 300-400 animals – 2040+
End of conservation breeding program – TBD
- News release: Government of Canada making additional investments to support the recovery of woodland caribou in Jasper National Park
- Progress reports: population monitoring and research
- Multi-Species Action Plan for Jasper National Park (2017)
- Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population (2014)
What did you learn from the consultations?
The input and comments received from Indigenous and government partners, stakeholders and the public were generally supportive. Participants provided input on the need to ensure that the breeding program does not imperil source populations, the need to ensure the health and well-being of animals in captivity and to ensure that the ecological conditions for caribou habitat are maintained and can support the program. Indigenous partners are interested to collaborate in a number of areas including exploring potential economic benefits and ensuring that Indigenous knowledge and protocols are included in the program.
Parks Canada also received comments from the Government of Alberta, the Government of BC and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Some of the feedback shared stressed the importance of not risking the recovery of other regional caribou populations and indicating the need for continued communication and collaboration for the program to be successful.
A “what we heard” report summarizing feedback received during consultation is available on the Jasper National Park website. All documents related to the Detailed Impact Assessment can be viewed on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry website.
What will happen to caribou if Parks Canada does not take more action in Jasper?
The Tonquin and Brazeau herds will eventually disappear without our help. Although habitat and current conditions in Jasper National Park can support larger caribou populations, there are not enough reproductive females to be able to grow the herds.
Small herds and individual caribou can survive for many years. Some caribou live more than 15 years, but unless animals are added to the population they will become locally extinct.
What is conservation breeding?
Conservation breeding is a species recovery technique that involves breeding an endangered wildlife species in a controlled environment with the purpose of preventing its extinction. A small number of wild animals are captured to be bred in captivity and their offspring are then released into the wild to increase populations of animals.
What is the main goal of this program? What would success look like?
The initial goal of the program is to rebuild the Tonquin herd to 200 caribou within 5 to 10 years after the first caribou are released. A successful program will ensure the health and welfare of animals in the program and lead to a growing and eventually sustainable Tonquin herd.
Based on the experience and results with the Tonquin herd, Parks Canada will explore releasing animals back into the Brazeau and Maligne ranges to reach populations of 300 to 400 caribou in Jasper National Park.
What is the difference between conservation breeding and maternity penning? Why not use maternity penning to rebuild caribou populations in Jasper?
Both maternity penning and conservation breeding are tools used to help species at risk.
The goal of maternity penning is to help more calves survive. Pregnant females are captured from the wild in late winter and brought into a temporary pen for four to eight weeks. During this time, their calves are born and experience their first weeks of life protected from predators. Both the cows and calves are then released back into the wild in spring when the calves are 1 to 2 months old.
In Jasper, calf survival is relatively high - there are just not many of them. Maternity penning would be difficult to do because of the small number of females in the Tonquin and Brazeau herds. It could be risky to repeatedly capture all the pregnant females each year, and may only result in 1 or 2 more calves surviving each year. It would also be impossible for enough calves to be born to reintroduce them to areas where caribou have disappeared. In this case, the risks outweigh the benefits.
The goal of conservation breeding, on the other hand, is to repeatedly add animals to a population. Several males and females are captured from the wild and brought into captivity to form a captive breeding herd. Each year, calves born to this breeding herd are released to join a wild herd. This happens repeatedly until the population reaches a size that can sustain itself.
Are there examples of caribou breeding programs elsewhere?
Conservation breeding programs to recover species at risk have been proven successful around the world. Within Parks Canada, conservation breeding projects have been implemented in Fundy, Grasslands, Wood Buffalo, Prince Albert, and Banff national parks for animals including Atlantic salmon, black-footed ferrets, whooping cranes, Canadian swift fox, and plains bison.
The techniques used in this proposed caribou conservation program have been researched, documented, and implemented in different institutions across North America and Europe. However, this program will be the first of its kind for caribou in Canada.
There are examples of both challenges and successes in capturing, breeding and raising caribou, moving caribou from one place to another, and introducing animals from one herd to another. For example, caribou have been raised at the Calgary Zoo/Wilder Institute in Alberta, Zoo de St-Félicien and Charlevoix in Québec, and R.G. White Large Animal Research Station in Alaska. There are examples of maternity penning projects such as Klinse-Za Caribou Maternity Pen, Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild, Arrow Lakes Maternity Pen Project in British Columbia and Chisana maternity penning project in Yukon. There are examples of enclosures or large fenced areas for caribou in Grands-Jardins National Park in Quebec and Baxter State Park in Maine. There are also examples of translocations or rescues involving the Sustut, Telkwa, South Selkirk, Purcell South, and North Columbia herds in British Columbia.
For more information, click here.
Where is the conservation breeding centre going to be located?
The conservation breeding centre will be located in Jasper National Park, about 30 kilometres south of the Jasper townsite. The site is along Geraldine Fire Road, which is accessed from Highway 93A and is used by people visiting the Geraldine Lakes area and Fryatt Valley. Athabasca Falls is located a few kilometres south of the conservation breeding centre site.
How soon will construction begin on the new breeding centre?
Parks Canada will begin building the conservation breeding centre in 2023. Considering the location of the site and seasonal limitations, construction of the breeding centre will take place over two to three years.
Will the caribou breeding centre be open to the public?
The caribou breeding centre will not be open to the public. Parks Canada’s priority is the health and welfare of animals in our care. Access to the centre will be limited to staff and occasionally specialists, researchers, or Indigenous partners.
Will there be any closures to hikes, campgrounds, or areas due to this program?
There will likely be temporary and short-term closures related to the conservation breeding program. For example, there will likely be delays or closures along Geraldine Road during construction at the breeding centre for safety reasons, or temporary closures at locations where young caribou are released in the Tonquin Valley.
Seasonal closures in winter caribou habitat will remain in place. In Jasper National Park, caribou and their habitat are protected under Canada’s National Parks Act and Species at Risk Act.
How many caribou would be in captivity and for how long?
Parks Canada could begin to bring wild caribou into a conservation breeding centre in Jasper National Park as early as 2025. Parks Canada will capture caribou to bring into the centre over several years, eventually having a breeding herd of 30 to 40 breeding females and a total of 100-120 males, females, and calves at peak capacity.
Some of the animals will remain in captivity for the lifespan of the program, while others will be released depending on what is best for the individual animal. Most male calves born in captivity each year will be released into the Tonquin herd at about 10 months old. Most of the female calves born in captivity each year will be released into the Tonquin herd at about 15 months old, and a few will be kept as part of the breeding herd. It is possible that 35 to 38 female calves will be born in captivity each year.
For more information, click here.
Is there an endpoint for the program?
The program is intended to be long-term but not permanent. The breeding centre will be built with a plan for eventually decommissioning and restoring the site to its natural state. It is too early to determine exactly when that endpoint will be.
If the technique is successful, there are several options for the end of the program. If the health and welfare of animals in the program were jeopardized or the technique was unsuccessful in growing the Tonquin herd, the program would end.
The program will be assessed periodically against key milestones. For example, after the first few releases of caribou into the wild herd, once the Tonquin reaches 200 caribou, or the Brazeau or Maligne reaches a sustainable population.
What are the potential costs of a program like this?
The Government of Canada has invested $24 million through the Nature Legacy Fund to support caribou recovery in Jasper National Park. Cost estimates for the conservation breeding program will be refined and updated once a construction contract is awarded and planning progresses. Costs are anticipated to increase given the rapid increase in material cost, inflation, labour shortages and supply-chain challenges.
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How does climate change affect caribou recovery?
The effects of climate change are high on the list of threats for many of the species at risk in Jasper National Park. While scientists are trying to predict the effects of climate change, we can’t anticipate every detail of how species will adapt to these changes, nor how those changes will ripple throughout ecosystems. In collaboration with Indigenous peoples and academics, Parks Canada is conducting important research within protected areas that will contribute to our understanding of current and future climate change impacts. While protected areas tend to be more resilient to climate change, it has the potential to affect caribou and their habitat. Caribou have evolved to live in cooler climates and are adapted to cold, snowy winters. Changes to seasonal cycles, growing seasons, and snowfall patterns could affect food availability and habitat. Climate change could reduce alpine habitats and increase avalanche activity. More frequent forest fires and forest insect outbreaks could cause habitat loss for caribou or habitat changes that lead to higher deer, elk, moose, and wolf populations. Warming temperatures could also result in more favourable conditions for diseases and parasites that affect caribou. Parks Canada is actively researching and monitoring wildlife and habitat in Jasper to better understand the potential impacts of climate change on caribou and to help us adapt our recovery efforts over time.
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