The woodland caribou herds in Jasper National Park are dwindling.
An update posted on the Parks Canada website suggests that the three Southern Mountain caribou herds managed by the federal agency in the national park in Alberta have declined to critical levels.
It says the Tonguin herd has 45 caribou, while the Brazeau herd has fewer than 15 — and neither has enough females to grow those herds.
In addition, Parks Canada says the Maligne herd was last seen in 2018 and is officially considered extirpated.
No one from Jasper National Park was immediately available for comment, but its website says park officials have identified five past, current and future threats to caribou in the park. They include altered predator-prey dynamics, predator access, human disturbance, habitat loss and small population effects.
With predator access, for example, the federal agency said the caribou can survive in deep snow, which typically drives predators to lower elevations. Trails packed by skiers and snowshoers, however, can help wolves get into the areas to prey on the herds.
Under human disturbance, it notes that caribou in the park can also be disrupted by skiers and hikers with dogs and they can be killed in vehicle collisions on roadways.
The dire situation has the Alberta Wilderness Association calling for immediate action by the federal government to try to save the herds.
“This is an iconic Canadian wildlife species. It’s on our quarter,” Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Alberta-based environmental group, said in an interview.
“The federal government has a responsibility in its own backyard — the national parks — to really move on a good plan, which we feel is probably there. And we are just really perplexed and concerned why it’s moving in such slow motion when the populations are declining at speed.
“We just need to act now while we still can,” added Campbell.
She and the association have written a letter to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Alan Fehr, the superintendent of Jasper National Park.
The letter asks that Parks Canada conclude its lengthy consideration of an emergency population augmentation program and, if viable, proceed with urgency to stabilize and recover the Tonquin and Brazeau populations.
It suggests the agency also needs to retain winter access limits in the Maligne range.
And it says Parks Canada needs to better inform people about how its land-use decisions have worked against caribou survival.
© The Canadian Press