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Jasper’s last caribou?

I traveled to Jasper National Park for a caribou conference in the cool, tentative spring of 2006. The participants - there must have been several dozen of us - patiently spent our days watching presentations cloaked in euphemisms like "cumulative effects management" and "predator control." More than a few of us stole wistful glances out the window, wishing we were out in the cool mountain air, and wondering if we would see any real caribou.

Fortunately, on the last day of the conference, we piled onto a bus that wove us into the mountain highlands and deposited us at the edge of Medicine Lake. Medicine Lake purportedly has magical properties; sometimes it has water in it, sometimes it does not. That spring, Medicine Lake was dry, and its parched bed looked alien and otherworldly against the backdrop of stoic, snow-capped mountains. We all stood in thundering silence, waiting for something to happen.

Suddenly, an excited "Look! There they are!" pierced the air and we squinted, staring across the dry lake. Four bull caribou were grazing on the other side, either oblivious to our presence or choosing to ignore us. We all watched, transfixed, daring not to move or speak. Their well-muscled necks, noble silhouettes, and strong legs moved with purpose, as though they belonged there and we were only visitors. We blinked and they melted into the distance.

I had a knot in my stomach the whole ride back, feeling as though I might have seen the last caribou in Jasper.

Is there hope?

This month, Environment Canada released their strategy for recovering the Southern Mountain Caribou.

In addition to the Jasper herd, this recovery strategy looks at some of the most endangered herds in Canada, such as the Burnt Pine herd of the Pine River area where only 1 lone female remains.

Reading over the strategy, my main thoughts were that despite years of studying these herds and the causes of their decline, the plan falls far short of listing concrete actions to be taken and providing a concrete way forward.

Take Action

CPAWS will be submitting comments before March 18. Click here to read our full comment submission. Want to help these caribou? Click here to send a letter to Environment Canada, urging them to make the sure that the recovery strategy leads to real changes for the remaining herds in this region.