Woodland Caribou in Jasper National Park
Woodland caribou inhabit some of the most scenic alpine landscapes of Jasper National Park. Catching a glimpse of this unique and fascinating animal bestows a real connection to our wild places - like hearing a loon call or seeing a grizzly bear print on a trail – and an experience not soon forgotten.
Jasper National Park is home to four distinct herds of Woodland caribou: the northern A la Peche herd and three South Jasper herds, Maligne, Tonquin and Brazeau.
The northern (A la Peche) herd moves seasonally between northern Jasper National Park and the Willmore Wilderness Park. Some of these caribou can occasionally be spotted in the foothills along Highway 40 south of Grande Cache, while others choose to stay year-round in the mountains.
The South Jasper herds are found in three stunning ranges in the southern half of Jasper National Park and rarely interact. These areas offer opportunities for visitors to experience caribou habitat and perhaps catch a glimpse. The Maligne herd inhabits the mountains of the Maligne Range, renowned for incredible scenery and nearby recreation. Summer day hikers in the popular Cavell Meadows or backpackers in the Tonquin Valley may see the Tonquin herd. Members of the Brazeau herd are spotted each year along the Icefields Parkway and occasionally by hikers users enjoying the rugged wilderness setting.
The caribou that call Jasper National Park home They migrate elevationally between the alpine and subalpine forests in response to seasonal changes, staying and remain in the park most of the year.
Woodland caribou found in the mountains of Alberta and south-eastern British Columbia belong to the Southern Mountain population. Their range includes Jasper, Banff, Mount Revelstoke, and Glacier national parks. This population is distinct from most other Woodland caribou in their use of mountain habitat. They live in old growth forest and high elevation areas. These often hard-to-access areas help them avoid predators.
Where are Woodland Caribou found in Jasper National Park?
Research in Action
The North Jasper herd is the focus of a long-term research and monitoring program coordinated by the province of Alberta in cooperation with Parks Canada, the University of Alberta, and regional stakeholders.
The South Jasper caribou populations are the subject of on-going research by Parks Canada biologists in cooperation with the Universities of Calgary, Manitoba and Montana. The primary goals of this research are to monitor the status of these herds, confirm likely causes of their decline and to implement conservation actions. The key components of this study involve annual population counts and calf recruitment surveys, non-invasive DNA monitoring through scat collection, and monitoring the amount, timing and location of human use in these areas. The study also involves the monitoring of wolf pack movements and kill sites, to assess where, when and how wolves are travelling, as well as what they are eating. All of this research is used to recommend, implement and monitor caribou conservation actions.
How many caribou are there?
To determine if our threatened population is increasing, stable or decreasing, we need to measure caribou numbers annually.
Lambda: This method uses information from the monitoring of collared female caribou. It is simply the number of births minus the number of deaths.
Visual estimate: This method is an adjustment to the Raw Count, to account for caribou not actually seen - we use ratio of seen/unseen collars for this method.
Raw count: This is the number of animals actually seen during an aerial survey. The problem with this method is that it doesn't account for caribou not seen.
Scat estimate: We identify individuals using the DNA collected from caribou scat. The ratio of new to previously identified individuals in a scat collection gives us an estimate of the total number of caribou.
Recovering a species at risk
Five key threats have been identified as contributing to declining caribou populations in Jasper National Park. Based on these threats a number of conservation actions have been implemented, and other actions are being investigated.
1. Altered Predator-prey dynamics
Threat: The valley bottoms in Jasper National Park are areas of high human use and both deer and elk find refuges (places that predators won’t go) in areas like the town, campgrounds and the grounds of outlying accommodations. These refuges increase the survival rate of deer and elk, maintaining unnatural population numbers for these animals, and therefore increasing available prey for wolves. As wolf numbers increase however, young wolves will disperse to find food, mates and new territory. This can lead to “transient” wolf packs finding their way into caribou habitat. While these wolf packs are unlikely to stay in these areas for a long time, they can have a significant impact on an already small caribou population.
Actions: Fencing has been used to limit elk access in some areas and in other areas changes to existing fencing has resulted in better predator access. Hazing is being used to chase elk out of high human use areas. This moves them into more natural settings and helps to minimize the risk of elk-human conflict.
2. Predator Access
Threat: In winter, woodland caribou in Jasper National Park are found at high elevation in areas of open slopes and deep powder. Caribou are well adapted to life in deep snow giving them a distinct advantage over their predators. Packed trails can lead wolves into these otherwise inaccessible areas.
Actions: A seasonal closure has been implemented on the Cavell Road, Astoria Trail and the Tonquin Valley areas to prevent packed trails from giving wolf populations access to this important winter caribou habitat during periods of deep snow.
© Parks Canada / Mark Bradley
3. Human Disturbance
Threat: The Brazeau herd is known to come down into the Beauty Flats area along Highway 93 (the Icefields Parkway) in periods of deep snow, or to feed on early spring growth. The Maligne herd descends into the Medicine Lake area along the Maligne Road. The risk of caribou being killed on these roadways is a great concern particularly considering the small size of the herds.
Actions: Caribou crossing zones have been put in place along highway 93 and Maligne Lake Road with reduced speed limits highlighted by innovative roadside signs.
Threat: Caribou can be displaced from prime feeding grounds by hikers. Displacement may be more likely if those hikers are accompanied by dogs as prey species generally show higher levels of stress in the presence of dogs.
Action: Dogs are not allowed in areas of important caribou habitat, and information is provided to trail users about responsible travel in caribou habitat. While this action is aimed at helping woodland caribou, it also helps protect this fragile alpine ecosystem.
4. Habitat Loss
Threat: Outside of Jasper National Park, habitat loss is the number one threat to most woodland caribou populations. While the loss of habitat due to industrial land-use is not a significant threat within Jasper, caribou habitat could be affected by fire.
- Action: Caribou biologists are working with Parks Canada fire and vegetation specialists to incorporate key caribou habitat into fire management planning.
5. Small Population Effects
Threat: As the number of caribou in a herd declines to low numbers, this downward trend is more likely to continue. The loss of any animal in a small population can have disproportionate and potentially devastating effects.
- Action: Minimizing the previous threats is one step toward helping reverse the caribou population declines in Jasper National Park. Unfortunately the Maligne and Brazeau herds are already at such low numbers that reducing these threats will not be enough to reverse the declines. Parks Canada biologists in both Banff and Jasper as well as other experts in the field are working on implementing a captive rearing program for woodland caribou. If actions to decrease threats to caribou in the park are successful, animals from the captive rearing program would be used to increase caribou populations in Jasper. Once populations are back at viable minimum sizes, and the other threats have been addressed, further augmentation will not be needed.
Learn more about woodland caribou
Visit the Parks Canada Species at Risk pages to learn more about woodland caribou and find links to other informative websites.
If you are coming to Jasper, stop by the Visitor Information Centre to find out where and how you can learn more about woodland caribou in the park.
Contact the Caribou Communications Specialist at 780-883-0391 to learn more about caribou educational programs and materials, or if you have any additional caribou questions.
Get involved. Parks Canada values your opinion. Look for opportunities to share your views on the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada and other areas of the management of Jasper National Park.
Be aware of how your actions can impact caribou
Avoid hiking in caribou habitat during calving (late May and early June) and rutting (Late September) season. These are important times of the year for caribou populations and any disturbances could have more significant impacts.
Dogs are no longer allowed in important caribou habitat. If you would like to hike with your dog ask at the visitor centre for other suggestions. The restricted areas including the Tonquin Valley and Verdant Pass area, Cavell Meadows, the Skyline Trail, the Bald Hills and Opal Hills, Maligne Pass, Jonas Creek and Poboktan Creek trails.
Be sure to check for seasonal closures before heading out to the backcountry.
If you want to support caribou conservation efforts, the best choice is to avoid caribou habitat altogether in winter as your ski or snowshoe tracks could inadvertently lead wolves into these relatively inaccessible areas.
Respect speed zones in the park. At certain times of the year, the Brazeau herd of woodland caribou may be seen in the Beauty Flats area along the Icefields Parkway, and the Maligne herd may be seen in the Medicine Lake area along Maligne Lake Road. They descend to this subalpine area for better access to ground lichen in times of deep snow or to take advantage of early spring growth. Reduced speed zones have been implemented in the areas of Poboktan Creek to Beauty Creek as well as on the Maligne Lake Road to reduce the risk of caribou being killed on these roads.