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Mountain caribou captive breeding program unveiled

By Aaron Orlando
BC Local News

Officials from the federal government and the Alberta and B.C. governments joined Parks Canada and Calgary Zoo officials at that zoo on Nov. 25 to announce a new captive breeding program for threatened mountain caribou...the caribou will be bred in captivity and eventually released into the wild to augment smaller herds.

Officials from the federal government and the Alberta and B.C. governments joined Parks Canada and Calgary Zoo officials at that zoo on Nov. 25 to announce a new captive breeding program for threatened mountain caribou.

The plan is to take threatened caribou from healthy herds in B.C. and relocate them to a Calgary Zoo ranch facility south of the Alberta city. Once there, the caribou will be bred in captivity and eventually released into the wild to augment smaller herds.

The plan is to create a 'source herd' at the facility over a 10- to 20-year period. The herd would augment wild ones in Jasper National Park, and "potentially" Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks.

In the first year, about 20 caribou would be relocated from B.C. Another 20 will be relocated in the second year. In year three, the first yearlings would be translocated form the conservation herd back into the wild.

Parks Canada is inviting public comment on their overall conservation plan for mountain caribou until the end of January, 2012.

Another possible objective is the plan is to reintroduce caribou into Banff National Park. The last remaining caribou there were extirpated in 2009.

The Revelstoke Times Review is currently developing this story and gathering reaction. See our Nov. 30 print edition for more. In the meantime, here are all of the media releases and background information provided in a media kit today:

Here is the main media release sent out to coincide with the announcement:

Government of Canada Announces Woodland Caribou Captive Breeding Partnering Arrangement between Parks Canada, BC Government and Calgary Zoo

Innovative project a cornerstone of Parks Canada’s Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks

Calgary, Alberta – November 25, 2011 –- On behalf of the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Michelle Rempel, Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre-North and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment announced today an important partnership between Parks Canada, the British Columbia Government and the Calgary Zoo to implement a woodland caribou captive breeding program supporting protection of this species at risk in the mountain national parks.

“The Government of Canada is committed to the recovery of species at risk,” said Michelle Rempel. “The Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou is a critical first step to protecting this species. Captive rearing shows promise to reinforce and augment herds, helping to ensure that this iconic species remains on the landscape for future generations.”

Twenty-five years ago, more than 800 caribou ranged in the mountain national parks. Today, fewer than 250 remain. Parks Canada is committed to ensuring the survival and recovery of woodland caribou to help maintain the ecological integrity in the mountain national parks. The captive breeding program, a key element of a Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks developed by Parks Canada, will provide source animals to supplement critically small herds in Jasper, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks and in the Province of British Columbia, as well as to reintroduce caribou to Banff National Park.

“The Government of Canada is proud to work with our conservation partners to encourage a healthy, sustainable population of Southern Mountain woodland caribou in their traditional home ranges,” said Minister Kent. “By sharing expertise and pooling resources, we will work toward building a better future for woodland caribou.”

“British Columbia is proud to participate in this important program by providing donor animals and access to our northern caribou and our regional staff expertise,” said Steve Thomson, BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. “This will help promote the genetic diversity of the species and support our commitment to recover woodland caribou in both our provinces.”

“Recovery of sensitive species such as woodland caribou is challenging, multifaceted work that involves many partners,” said Frank Oberle, Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. “We will provide appropriate administrative permits and consider what new perspectives can be gained for caribou conservation as we continue habitat retention, reclamation and predator management on our landscape.”

“The Calgary Zoo has a long history of participating in recovery projects for species considered at risk in our own country and globally,” said Dr. Clément Lanthier, President and CEO for the Calgary Zoo. “Our expertise in reintroduction science and captive breeding for release has been developed over several decades and we are very pleased to be part of this initiative for woodland caribou – such an iconic and important Canadian species.”

The Parks Canada Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks will guide conservation actions in Banff, Jasper, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks. Through the strategy, Parks Canada is exploring methods to reverse the decline of woodland caribou using a range of measures. These include seasonal trail and area closures and managing the density of alternate prey species for caribou predators. Current research and ongoing monitoring are contributing to the sound science used to identify important caribou habitat on national park lands and identify potential conservation actions.

Parks Canada is inviting comment from First Nations, stakeholders and interested members of the public to refine and improve this strategy until January 31, 2012. Members of the public are encouraged to review the Conservation Strategy at www.parkscanada.gc.ca/caribou.

Parks Canada works to ensure that Canada’s historic and natural heritage is presented and protected for the enjoyment, education and appreciation of all Canadians, today and in the future. Through a network of 42 national parks, 167 national historic sites, and four national marine conservation areas, Parks Canada invites Canadians, and people from around the world, to experience Canada’s treasured natural and historic places.

Here is a 'backgrounder' on the captive breeding program announced Nov. 25:

Caribou and Captive Breeding: Conserving a Species at Risk

As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada is working with other organizations to protect and recover Species at Risk like the threatened Southern Mountain population of woodland caribou.

To maintain a healthy population of Southern Mountain woodland caribou on the landscape in Canada, Parks Canada, the Government of British Columbia, and the Calgary Zoo have agreed in principle to work collaboratively on a caribou captive breeding program as part of the Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks.

What is captive breeding?

In a captive breeding program, a limited number of source animals are taken from large, wild populations and bred in captivity. Offspring are strategically released into wild areas where they will have the greatest conservation value and the optimum chances for survival.

The goal of the program is to build a source population that could be used to supplement several small herds in Jasper National Park, British Columbia and potentially Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks. Animals from this program could also be reintroduced into Banff National Park, where the remaining resident herd was completely destroyed by an avalanche in 2009.

How will the program work?

Captive breeding is a long-term project with a goal of supplying caribou for approximately four to six sub populations over a 10-20 year period.

Year 1: Potentially 20 caribou, likely from suitable wild herds in British Columbia, will be moved to the Calgary Zoo’s ranch facility south of Calgary.

Year 2: The conservation herd would be augmented by an additional 20 wild caribou.

Year 3: The first yearlings could be translocated from the conservation herd to the wild.

Parks Canada is committed to keeping stakeholders and other conservation organizations informed as to the progress of the caribou captive rearing program. The success of conserving and protecting this iconic species at risk depends on cooperation and collaboration from many partners, including other governments, the private sector, the research and scientific community, outdoor recreationists, and the public who join us in treasuring and protecting Canada’s national parks.

Here is an 'update' on the population of the Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou as of Nov. 2011:

Update on Woodland Caribou – Southern Mountain Population November 2011

Woodland caribou found in Jasper, Banff, Mount Revelstoke, and Glacier national parks belong to the Southern Mountain population listed as Threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Within the Southern Mountain population, at least one herd has been extirpated (no longer exists in that area), and several other herds are at risk of disappearing. The status of these caribou herds varies throughout the different regions and each herd faces particular challenges on the road to successful recovery.

Jasper National Park

Every fall, Parks Canada biologists conduct population counts of the three southern herds in Jasper National Park. The current estimate in Jasper National Park is six caribou in the Maligne, 11 in the Brazeau, and 54 in the Tonquin, for a total population of 71. Caribou that may have been missed during visual surveys are accounted for by comparing the number of radio collared caribou seen to the total number of collared animals. Population estimates have a confidence interval of 64 to 92 (meaning that were you to conduct ten surveys, you would expect all the estimates to fall within this range, nine out of ten times).

The annual survey indicates that there has been no significant change over the past three years; however, the population numbers remain lower than the 2008 estimate of 127.

Parks Canada staff also observed approximately half the caribou cows with calves. This is one of the highest calf to cow ratios (number of calves per total number of cows) recorded in the last 20 years.

Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks

Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks are home to two woodland caribou subpopulations, the Columbia South herd whose range includes parts of both parks, and the Duncan herd whose range includes a small part of the south-east corner of Glacier National Park.

The Columbia South herd has declined significantly in the last 20 years. The last census, conducted in March 2011, counted only seven caribou (including two calves). In order to protect important winter habitat of this herd in Mount Revelstoke, a seasonal closure of the Mt. Klotz area has been in effect since 2007. Monitoring flights last winter found caribou using the area, and Parks Canada patrols the closure to help ensure compliance and reduce human impact on this sensitive species.

The Duncan herd was last surveyed by the BC Ministry of Environment in March 2010 and only one group of seven adult caribou was observed. Parks Canada will be working with BC Provincial biologists to survey this herd in the spring of 2012.

Banff National Park

In 2009, an avalanche killed the last known animals in the Banff woodland caribou herd. There have been no confirmed caribou sightings in Banff since that time.

For more information on woodland caribou in the mountain national parks visit www.parkscanada.gc.ca/caribou or email caribou@pc.gc.ca

Here is an update on the Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou:

A Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s national parks

Caribou found in the mountain national parks of Banff, Glacier, Jasper and Mount Revelstoke belong to the Southern Mountain population of woodland caribou, listed as Threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Parks Canada is responsible for the protection and conservation of species at risk that occur in national parks.

In 2009, Parks Canada announced $4.5 million in funding over five years to develop and implement key management actions to improve the status of Southern Mountain woodland caribou found on national park lands.

The Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks will guide Parks Canada’s caribou conservation actions. Parks Canada is actively seeking feedback on this strategy to ensure that the best possible management decisions are being made in support of Southern Mountain caribou conservation.

 Banff, Glacier, Jasper and Mount Revelstoke national parks each face a particular set of challenges in caribou conservation. The strategy identifies five key threats to caribou in the mountain national parks:

 - Altered predator-prey dynamics: changes to populations of deer, elk and moose are affecting the number and distribution of predators;

 - Predator access: packed winter trails and other disturbances facilitate predator access to caribou habitat;

 - Direct disturbance: caribou can be displaced from prime feeding grounds or into areas of higher predator numbers. Roads through caribou habitat have also led to mortality;

 - Habitat loss: caribou need large tracts of intact old-growth forest that support the growth of lichen, their primary food source in winter; and

 - Small population effects: small herds are likely to continue declining, and are at higher risk of extirpation.

While the influence of each of these threats varies between the parks, they are all seen to contribute to some extent to declining caribou populations.

Current research and on-going monitoring contributed to the identification of important caribou habitat on national park lands and the recommendation of potential caribou conservation actions for the Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks.

The conservation strategy will help inform the development of the Environment Canada-led recovery plan for the Southern Mountain population of woodland caribou, expected early in 2012.

To review the Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks and provide feedback, visit www.parkscanada.gc.ca/caribou.

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