Understanding caribou populations and how they relate to other species is key to supporting healthy ecosystems in the park. The caribou monitoring program ensures Parks Canada is able to make informed decisions about caribou and take actions based on the knowledge gained from ongoing research and monitoring.

The reports on this page include summaries from regular progress reports since 2001 that are based on population and demographic data for the Brazeau, Maligne and Tonquin caribou herds in Jasper National Park (referred to as South Jasper herds). Full reports are available upon request.

Recovery actions for caribou in Jasper are guided by the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population (2014) and the Multi-Species Action Plan for Jasper National Park (2017), both of which were developed in cooperation with Indigenous partners, local and regional stakeholders, and provincial and federal agencies. These documents can be found on the Species at Risk Public Registry website.

2017 to 2018 Monitoring Report

Parks Canada Agency. 2018. Caribou Conservation Program, 2017-2018 Monitoring Report.
Jasper National Park of Canada, Parks Canada Agency.

Jasper National Park
P.O. Box 10
Jasper, Alberta
T0E1E0
780-883-0391
caribou@canada.ca

Introduction

This report summarizes ongoing population monitoring of woodland caribou, a species at risk in Jasper National Park. Understanding caribou and wolf populations and how they relate to each other is key to supporting healthy populations of both species in the park. Progress reports containing more in depth analysis and conclusions are produced every two years and are available upon request.

Recovery actions for caribou in Jasper are guided by the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population (2014) and the Multi-Species Action Plan for Jasper National Park (2017), both of which were developed in cooperation with Indigenous partners, local and regional stakeholders, and provincial and federal agencies. These documents can be found on the Species at Risk Public Registry website.

Reviewed and approved by:
David Argument, Resource Conservation Manager
Alan Fehr, Field Unit Superintendent


Woodland Caribou Monitoring Program

Woodland Caribou Monitoring Program
Lalenia Neufeld

Background

Caribou herds in the southern portion of Jasper National park are part of the Threatened Southern Mountain woodland caribou population listed on Schedule A of the Species at Risk Act; herds in south Jasper are at or below the quasi-extinction threshold, which means that the number of females is so small that the herds are not capable of overcoming baseline threats and recovering on their own. Parks Canada identified five key threats to caribou (altered predator-prey dynamics, facilitated predator access to caribou habitat, direct disturbance of caribou, direct loss of caribou habitat, and small population effects) with altered predator-prey dynamic being the most influential threat (Parks Canada Agency, 2011). We are monitoring caribou and predator-prey dynamics to support the implementation of the management actions to address these threats.

Objectives
  • Monitor woodland caribou south of Highway 16 in three areas: the Brazeau, Maligne, and Tonquin (Figure 1).
  • Monitor caribou population size, distribution, demographics, genetics, survival, and aspects of predator-prey dynamics that may influence caribou populations.

Methods

Parks Canada biologists monitor caribou population size with aerial surveys and DNA surveys. The aerial surveys provide a count of the minimum number of animals alive. We have used aerial surveys in combination with radio telemetry to provide a mark/recapture population estimate based on radio-collars (a corrected population size that accounts for animals not seen), but as of 2010 no longer radio-collar caribou.

DNA from scat is now used for population estimation (and combined with other sources of information like minimum population size and calf ratios in an integrated population model to give an overall estimate using all available data). During the aerial surveys, biologists collect scat samples that provide DNA to identify individual caribou. Conducting two scat collections within a few weeks provides a means of statistically evaluating DNA results to provide an estimate of total population size in the Tonquin area, plus or minus a calculated degree of error. The Maligne and Brazeau populations are too small to estimate population size using this method, but DNA results are still used to understand immigration/emigration, survival, minimum number alive, and relatedness.

Figure 1. Caribou ranges for South Jasper (Brazeau, Maligne, and Tonquin) and North Jasper (À La Pêche).

Results

Population monitoring

The annual aerial and scat caribou surveys were conducted during the rut in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, we counted a minimum of 18 caribou in the Tonquin (7 males, 6 females, 1 unknown adult, and 4 calves), 8 caribou in the Brazeau (3 males, 3 females, and 2 male calves), and only 3 animals in the Maligne (1 female, 1 female calf, and 1 calf). In 2018 we observed 27 caribou in the Tonquin (12 females, 8 bulls, 5 male calves, 2 female calves), 10 caribou in the Brazeau herd (3 cows, 4 bulls, 2 male calves), and failed to observe caribou in the Maligne range despite excellent survey conditions. The number we observed in each range is the minimum count – it is not corrected to account for caribou we didn’t see – and therefore we expect the actual population size to be larger than what was observed (for larger herds; refer to “counts” in Figure 2 2).

In 2017, we observed 7 calves within the three herds, which is very small number and given that at least 5 were male, this will be insufficient to recover populations as only a small number of new females will be added to already very small populations. This trend continued in 2018, with a total of 9 calves in two herds, 7 of which were male. Nevertheless, Jasper continues to have a relatively high number of calves compared to caribou populations elsewhere, indicating that the source of population decline is not directly related to the survival of young caribou.

Population estimates have not been updated since 2016, as DNA results from 2017 and 2018 were recently scored and are still being error-checked. As of 2016, the Tonquin was estimated at ~31 (including calves), illustrating a decline from 113 animals in 2006 to ~31 in 2016 (there are no indications that the herd has increased through to 2018). We expect natural fluctuations in animal populations, but when caribou herds decline to have <10 reproductive females, they have been shown to have a very low probability of persistence over the next 20 years. This limit of 10 reproductive females is known as the quasi-extinction threshold and is based on population viability analyses from several herds, and with guidance from the IUCN criteria for assessing extinction risk. We estimate there are <10 reproductive females in the Tonquin and, therefore, that all South Jasper caribou herds are at a high risk of imminent extirpation (Figure 2). Although caribou may still exist in South Jasper for years, herds will ultimately continue to decline to extirpation.

We do not estimate population size in the Brazeau and Maligne using scat analysis because the herds are too small; however, .we were able to confirm the genotypes of the 3 caribou observed in the Maligne in 2017 (and a fourth male that was not observed), and collected DNA information on 7 Brazeau caribou during the 2016 survey.

Figure 2. Population abundance and trends expressed as counts and population estimates (scat and visual collar mark-resight) for caribou in South Jasper National Park 2003-2018 (error bars are 95% confidence intervals).

DNA information on 7 Brazeau caribou during the 2016 survey. Population estimates for the Tonquin from the 2017 scat analysis are forthcoming in 2018.

Parks Canada staff are also involved in assisting the Government of Alberta in monitoring the À la Pêche (ALP) herd, a trans-boundary herd that spends significant time in Blue Creek and the Snake Indian valley within Jasper. The À la Pêche herd is considered partially migratory. Some animals migrate to the foothills for the winter season, others stay in Jasper or mountainous regions year-round, and still others remain in the foothills year-round. The herd is approximately 140-150 animals, but work is ongoing to refine the population estimate with scat DNA spatial mark-recapture modelling. Wolf control has been ongoing outside of national park lands in the ALP winter range since 2006 and in the winter and summer range since 2014. Due primarily to this ongoing reduction in wolf density, the ALP herd has experienced increased survival and recruitment rates and a positive population growth rate (Eacker et al. 2019). Survival values of 0.92 and 0.96 and female recruitment of 0.20 and 0.14 for 2016 and 2017, respectively, indicate that the herd is doing well and expected to continue to grow if conditions are consistent into the future. Lambda values were 1.16 and 1.12 in 2016 and 2017, indicating a 16% and 12% growth of the population, respectively (Eacker et al. 2019).


Wolf monitoring program

Wolf Monitoring Program

Background

Wolves are a key predator in the Jasper ecosystem and, as identified in the Recovery Strategy for Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou, when at densities >3 wolves/1000km² are particularly influential to caribou herds. Although caribou are not an important prey item for wolves, even moderate levels of wolf predation in caribou herds can be sufficient to cause caribou decline. We monitor wolf distribution and pack size (density) in Jasper to better understand risks to caribou survival and assess ecological conditions for future caribou recovery efforts. This project is part of the larger Caribou Conservation Program.

Objectives
  • Detect changes in wolf pack sizes and density to better understand the condition of critical caribou habitat.
  • Document wolf response to management changes (e.g., delayed access to the backcountry) and to changes in deer and elk populations.

Methods

Figure 3. Approximate wolf pack ranges in south Jasper National Park in 2017 and 2018 – areas outside of JNP are not accurate nor informed by remote camera or GPS data.

We aim to maintain radio-collar contact with several key wolf packs that overlap with caribou habitat. Monitoring wolves and wolf density is challenging as wolves are dynamic, frequently shift ranges, and have high mortality. VHF collars (very high frequency – collars that emit only a radio signal, not precise locations) are used mostly to maintain contact with packs. GPS or satellite collars provide precise locations that we use for delineating pack ranges, habitat use, and response to delayed backcountry access.

Wolf density and pack size data is gathered from reported sightings, track counts, radio-collar data, and remote camera images. Remote cameras allow for observation of wolves across the park and can provide multiple counts of wolf packs over time at a consistent location. Sightings help to supplement camera information, and radio-collars can help solidify knowledge about particular packs and areas.

We aim to estimate an approximate territory and pack size during the winter months when wolves travel as a pack. We calculate wolf density within caribou areas in southern Jasper National Park, using modified methods detailed in Hebblewhite (2007). When a pack and its range are identified by remote camera, we use knowledge of wolf biology and average territory size to adjust the pack’s number by the proportion of time the pack is estimated to spend in south JNP. We use this adjusted wolf number to calculate wolf density across southern JNP.

Results

Wolf packs that overlap with caribou ranges include the Sunwapta pack, the Brazeau pack, the Pobokton pack, and to a lesser degree the Punchbowl and Rocky South packs (Figure 3).

Over the past two years, we have collected some habitat use and movement data on the Sunwapta Pack but were unable to locate other packs for collaring in spring 2017, or additional wolves with the Sunwapta pack in 2018. Collars are currently present on wolves in the Sunwapta pack and on a new pack on the north boundary of Jasper National Park. Finding wolves to collar has been increasingly difficult over the past five years.

Figure 4. Wolf density (wolves per 1000km²) in south Jasper National Park 2003/04 to 2017/18.
Figure 4. Wolf density (wolver per 1000km²) in south Jasper National Park 2003/04 to 2017/18.

Wolf density as calculated by remote camera sightings has been declining in Jasper. In winter 2017/18, wolf density in south Jasper was estimated at 1.5 wolves/1000km². In winter 2016/17 density was estimated at 1.8 wolves/1000km², and there were an estimated 14 wolves in South Jasper as identified on remote cameras (average pack size of 3 wolves). In 2015/16 density was higher, but mainly because of the arrival of an unknown, temporary pack of 8 wolves near the townsite. Because these wolves did not establish a permanent presence, we adjusted our count to account for the proportion of time they were known to be in the area. Total number of wolves in South Jasper was estimated at 18 and density was calculated at 2.5 wolves/1000km². Wolf abundance and density has fluctuated historically, from a low of 0.3 wolves/1000km² in 1959 at the end of wolf control practices to its height of ~5-6 wolves/1000km² in the early 1980s as wolves recovered. Wolf density declined after the 1980s and then returned to high densities (around 5) in the early 2000s. After carcass dumping was stopped in 2006, wolf density began to drop again and has been around 3 wolves/1000km² since 2006, and near or below 2 wolves/1000km² since 2013.

Wolf density in caribou habitat (including Matrix habitat – the habitat surrounding caribou ranges where predator/prey dynamics are known to influence caribou mortality rates), is a key indicator of caribou survival. It is thought that when density is below 3 wolves/1000km ², caribou herds are likely to persist (as indicated in the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain Population). However, we observed sharp declines in the Tonquin herd from 2011-2013 when wolf densities hovered near 3, suggesting that 3 wolves/1000km² is not necessarily coincident with increasing caribou herds when herds are already small. We infer that not only is overall wolf density important, but proximity of wolf packs to caribou range (which influences wolf use of caribou habitat) is key in explaining declines. During 2011-2013, the Robson wolf pack was active in the Decoigne region, frequently using caribou habitat in the Tonquin. There has not been a resident pack in this area since 2015/16.


Caribou conservation actions

Caribou Conservation Actions

Background

The development of the community and stakeholder-based Caribou Action Plan for Caribou Recovery in 2005 guided caribou conservation actions prior to an official recovery strategy from Environment Canada. In anticipation of listing on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act, these actions and current threats affecting caribou populations were reviewed and then incorporated in a second plan, the 2011 Conservation Strategy for Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Southern Mountain Population, on Parks Canada Lands. Actions for woodland caribou recovery continue, now under the auspices of the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Canada (Environment Canada, 2014) and the recently published Multi-species Action Plan for Jasper National Park (Parks Canada, 2017).

Objectives
  • Reduce or eliminate the five threats identified as impacting caribou in the mountain national parks: altered predator-prey dynamics, facilitated predator access, direct disturbance, habitat loss, and small population size.
  • Achieve stable to increasing numbers to a minimum of 100 animals (as defined in the Southern Mountain Caribou Recovery Strategy) as a step towards achieving self-sustaining local herds in which natural processes (dispersal, migration) can occur.

Methods

Parks Canada is continuing the implementation and refinement of previously identified recovery actions. A combination of scientific literature, expert knowledge, monitoring and comments from the community is being used to support these actions.

Results

Threats to caribou herds in Jasper National Park are well understood and we have accumulated data and implemented science-supported actions to help address threats.

Parks Canada has prepared the Multi-species Action Plan for Jasper National Park that provides the detailed recovery planning to support the strategic direction set out in the Recovery Strategy for the species. The plan outlines what needs to be done to achieve the population and distribution objectives identified in the Recovery Strategy, including the measures to be taken to address the threats and monitor the recovery of the species, as well as the proposed measures to protect critical habitat that has been identified for the species.

A comprehensive and detailed review of the current situation for the Tonquin herd has been completed (Bisaillon and Neufeld, 2017) with the objective to better understand human use in the Tonquin Valley, explore the cause of its continued decline, the impact of the implemented actions to date and ultimately, to review a suite of additional conservation measures. New measures are assessed based on the likelihood of providing a population level effect and mitigating existing threats such as facilitated predator access. This work will inform whether new conservations actions are warranted for the Tonquin Valley herd.

Altered predator-prey dynamics

The largest threat to Jasper National Park caribou is apparent competition (high numbers of main prey in an ecosystem result in high predator numbers, which increases predation rate on a rare species), similar to the main identified threat for most other caribou populations across the country. However, in the case of Jasper caribou decline, we believe that the cause of apparent competition is not landscape disturbance (as occurs in most herds within industrial landscapes), but previous management practices of wolf control and elk reintroduction. That is, management-induced apparent competition (and not disturbance-mediated apparent competition) has affected predator-prey dynamics over the past several decades, resulting in poor conditions for caribou persistence.

Actions have been implemented in the Jasper/Banff Local Population Unit (Maligne, Tonquin, and Brazeau herds) to address four of the five identified threats, with altered predator-prey dynamic being the most influential threat. The Recovery Strategy indicates that caribou populations are more likely to survive when wolf density is at or below 3 wolves per 1000 km2. Empirical evidence shows that in South Jasper, conservation actions aimed at restoring predator-prey dynamics in the park such as decreasing prey abundance and not dumping road killed animals in gravel pits have decreased wolf density below this threshold.

Facilitated predator access: delayed human access

Wolves move more quickly and easily on packed trails in the winter, an effect that becomes more pronounced at higher elevations, resulting in an increased predation risk to caribou. To help mitigate this advantage for wolves, winter human use within caribou critical habitat is delayed until mid-winter. This action was first implemented in 2009.

Significant communication efforts were deployed to ensure that visitors were well informed on the recreational opportunities available in this area while minimizing incursions into the closed area. To that effect, signs and on-site communication were improved. Compliance rate is continually improving since the implementation of delayed access in 2014 with only a few minor incursions reported over the past two years.

Habitat loss: critical habitat implementation

Since the Caribou Recovery Strategy was approved in June 2014, we have worked with Environment Canada to produce and refine maps of critical caribou habitat within Jasper National Park. In addition, expert opinion and support were provided by JNP’s caribou management team to the Federal Infrastructure Investment Program, and other projects, to ensure that approved projects aligned with the caribou critical habitat designation and the goals of the Recovery Strategy. All new projects are currently reviewed to determine their impact on caribou and critical habitat and whether the project will jeopardize the survival or the recovery of the species. More details on projects permitted under the Species at Risk Act can be found on the SAR Registry. Best practices to guide work in caribou habitat are also being developed to cover regular activities such as filming, random camping and trail work. The best practices should ensure that we are meeting our obligations under SARA while streamlining the assessment process.

Habitat loss: fire and caribou

Parks Canada fire management, caribou conservation and species-at-risk specialists are working together to evaluate fire management actions with respect to caribou critical habitat protection. This year, in Jasper National Park, one significant fire event has given us the opportunity to work together on implementing this process.

In fall 2016, the fire management team started working on the Bench Lakes Complex with the objective to complete multiple prescribed fires over the next few years. In 2017-2018, it was decided to also pursue mechanical harvesting of additional locations on the Bench complex adding 700 hectares to the previously planned activities for an anticipated total of 950ha. The revised fire plan was assessed for impacts to caribou critical habitat, in light of the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada. The team determined that the additional proposed activity is required for the safety of the Jasper Townsite and therefore falls under a public safety exception, despite possible impacts to caribou recovery. However, mitigation and monitoring measures will be explored and possibly implemented to ensure that the impact on caribou recovery is minimal.

Direct disturbance

On Highway 93, on a stretch that runs through the Brazeau herd range, sightings of caribou have been recorded regularly since 1955. A total of 13 caribou road mortalities have been recorded between 1985 and 2003 and to help protect these caribou, a seasonal caribou speed zone reinforced with electronic highway signs has been in place since 2005. In spring 2016, data on the caribou herd was examined in relation to the current wildlife speed zone. The length and season of the implemented speed zone was shortened, and the zone was shifted north to focus on the area where caribou use is most frequent. Other factors which contributed to this decision included public feedback and road sightlines. The objective for these changes was to achieve greater compliance in the speed zone and improve the winter driving experience. No highway associated mortality has been reported since 2003.

Small population size

The Brazeau, Maligne, and Tonquin herds are at or below the quasi-extinction threshold and will not recover naturally. Based on a comprehensive review of existing literature and input from experts across North America, we conclude that none of these three herds will recover without direct intervention. After reviewing a number of recovery options including direct translocation, maternity penning, and wolf control we determined that a conservation breeding and augmentation program is the only viable option to reverse caribou declines, prevent the extirpation of caribou in Jasper National Park, and meet the goals and objectives of the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population. Parks Canada, in close cooperation with experts across North America, has been investigating and developing a preliminary conceptual breeding program for Jasper. The work completed recently includes the development of conceptual design for the facility as well as a captive herd management and monitoring strategy, a health monitoring strategy, and a disease risk analysis. Population modelling to determine the impact of various augmentation scenarios has also been completed. We are currently looking at genetics implications of this project, assessing potential sites in Jasper for the facility, and exploring the origin of the source animals as most herds are declining which could limit the number of options available. Our next steps are to initiate the Environmental Impact Assessment and initiate the conversation with the Indigenous groups, the public and the stakeholders. The objective is to have a better understanding of various aspects of the conservation breeding and augmentation program to support the decision making process as no decision has been made yet whether to proceed with the project.


References

Eacker, D. R., M. Hebblewhite, R. Steenweg, M. Russell, A. Flasko, and D. Hervieux. 2019. Web‐based application for threatened woodland caribou population modeling. Wildlife Society Bulletin 43:167-177.

Parks Canada Agency. 2011. Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks. Parks Canada Agency, Canada, pp. 30.

Bisaillon, Jean-François and Layla Neufeld. 2017. Review of existing human use and additional conservation measures for the Tonquin Valley caribou. Jasper National Park of Canada, Parks Canada Agency. Jasper, Alberta.

Environment Canada. 2014. Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. Viii + 103 pp.

Parks Canada Agency. 2017. Multi-species Action Plan for Jasper National Park of Canada. Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Parks Canada Agency, Ottawa. iv + 21 pp.

2017 to 2019 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: Lalenia M. Neufeld, Caribou Biologist

September 2020

Report in progress. The full report will be available soon.

Executive summary

In this progress report, we present population and demographic data for the Brazeau, Maligne and Tonquin herds, and report on conservation measures that have been undertaken from April 2017 to March 2020. We also report on communications that have occurred during this period and refer to information from previous years where relevant or when not reported elsewhere.

Radio-collaring
  • In South Jasper, one radio-collar remains on a caribou in the Tonquin as of April 2020. Population monitoring has moved wholly toward non-invasive methods.
  • We have had continued difficulty in locating and collaring multiple wolf packs in South Jasper over the past 3 years (compared to prior to 2012), and currently have only the Sunwapta pack collared. In North Jasper, we have monitored the Starlight wolf pack since 2019-2020, where there is currently 1 radio-collar.
  • There is no elk research ongoing, but remnant collars continue to be monitored; there are currently three radio-collared elk.
  • No other species are currently being monitored by radio-collar.
Caribou population vital rate and population data
  • Monitoring analyses have adopted new methods and we now report findings from an Integrated Population Model (IPM). The IPM is a sophisticated statistical model that takes all population data available and combines it to produce a single population estimate.
  • The IPM takes information on: minimum count, female to young ratio (from surveys), population estimate from scat DNA, and survival from scat DNA. By using an IPM, we can combine information from Jasper’s multiple data sources to estimate multiple important population parameters simultaneously, allowing better precision in the final population estimate for the Tonquin herd. The Maligne and Brazeau populations are too small to use statistical modelling, and therefore we only show minimum counts.
  • The IPM includes data from the entire Jasper caribou monitoring history (excluding minimum counts prior to 2003).
  • In 2016, the Tonquin minimum count was 22 animals, 7 animals for Brazeau, and 3 animals in Maligne. The IPM estimate for the Tonquin in 2016 was 38 animals (95% credible interval 35-41). The number of adult females was predicted to be 12 (95% CI 8-15).
  • In 2017, the Tonquin minimum count was 18, 8 for Brazeau, and 3 in Maligne. The IPM estimate for the Tonquin in 2017 was 41 animals (95% credible interval 38-44). Notably, the number of adult females was predicted to be 9 (95% CI 6-13).
  • In 2018, the Tonquin minimum count during was 27, 10 for Brazeau, and 0 in Maligne. The IPM estimate for the Tonquin in 2018 was 48 animals (95% credible interval 46-51). The number of adult females continued to be very low, predicted to be 9 (95% CI 5-13).
  • In 2019, the Tonquin minimum count was 24, 8 for Brazeau, and 0 in Maligne. The IPM estimate for the Tonquin in 2019 was 51 animals (95% credible interval 35-41). Despite a growing total population, the number of adult females was predicted to continue to be low at 9 (95% CI 5-13). We attribute growth in the total herd estimate to be growth in young, non-reproductive age classes (calves, yearlings, and subadults). There are still not enough calves surviving to adults to augment the total number of adult females (i.e. add more to this age class than are dying every year).
  • Survival over the study period 2007-2019 was 0.7 for adult females (0.68-0.72), 0.72 for males (0.7-0.75), 0.74 (0.72-0.75) for subadult females, 0.75 (0.73-0.76) for subadult males, and 0.8 (0.53-0.98) for juvenile females and males, but because survival is measured across the entire time series, the averaged value is heavily influenced by the steep decline we observed from 2008-2014 (since 2014, we believe that survival has improved evidenced by stabilizing abundance).
  • From 2016-2019, we collected 524 (122, 118, 151, and 133 per year) scat samples, and identified 24 unique genotypes in 2016 (9 male, 10 female, 5 calves (2 of which were female). In 2017 we also identified 24 unique genotypes (7 male, 10 female, 7 calves (3 of which were female). In 2018 we identified 29 unique genotypes (10 male, 12 female, 7 calves (2 of which were female). In 2019 we identified 30 unique genotypes (11 male, 11 female, 8 calves (3 of which were female).
  • Spring calf surveys are no longer conducted as there are insufficient radio-collars with which to find caribou, so we rely on fall composition ratios to inform calf to female ratios.
  • Ratio data are less precise in more recent years, because the total population is small, but the total number of calves to cows is high (ratios >0.5 since 2016). In 2017, we saw 6 cows with 4 calves, in 2018 12 cows with 7 calves, and in 2019 11 cows with 6 calves. DNA evidence from 2017 adds information that there were 10 cows and 7 calves (3 of which were female). 2018 DNA data were consistent with observation data. DNA data from 2019 showed two more “calves” which could have been misidentified in DNA (i.e. they were not calves but new individuals to the dataset and are then assumed to be calves).
  • Our visual survey results show an average of 40 calves to 100 cows since 2003 (geometric mean, 90% CI 28-54) for the Tonquin herd (other herds excluded because of very low number of females)
Summary caribou population trend and abundance
  • The Tonquin herd size reached a low in 2016, and the herd has since stabilized or increased slightly. Despite this, the number of adult females in the herd is predicted to continue to be very low and field evidence supports this model prediction. The population increase is therefore attributed to high calf survival and growth in non-reproductive age classes (calf, juvenile, and sub adult), but is unable to replace dying adult females.
  • Caribou in the Maligne herd were last observed in October 2017 during an annual aerial survey. Scat DNA analysis confirmed the presence of four individuals: an adult female (collared), her female calves from 2017 and 2016, and her male calf from 2015. The adult female from 2017 was found dead in March 2018, yet we observed signs of other caribou at the site.
  • Three independent surveys in 2018 and two additional surveys in 2019, under very good conditions and in the highest probability regions, failed to locate caribou tracks or individuals. Surveys covered the majority (but not all) of the range. Given the number of surveys, time of year and conditions under which they were conducted, and having searched in the highest priority areas, it is unlikely that caribou remain in the Maligne Range.
  • The Brazeau herd has been located west of Highway 93 and in continued small numbers, with the 2019 survey and genetic data identifying only 3 adult females.
  • When herds decline to include <10 reproductive females, they have been shown to have a very low probability of persistence over the next 20 years. Once herds are at or past this point caribou may still exist in a region for many years, but they will ultimately continue to decline to extirpation. This limit of 10 reproductive females is known as the quasi-extinction threshold and is based on Population Viability Analyses from several herds, and with guidance from the IUCN criteria for assessing extinction risk.
  • All herds in South Jasper are near or beyond the quasi-extinction threshold, which means that the number of females is so small, the herd is not capable of overcoming baseline threats and recovering on its own. We still estimate ~11 reproductive females remain in the Tonquin, the Maligne is now extirpated and we are at immediate risk of losing the Brazeau herd.
Wolf density and Delayed access
  • Wolf density may be the single most important factor that predicts caribou decline and the recovery strategy suggest that density of <3 wolves per 1000km² is required to ensure caribou herds can be sustainable
  • We monitor wolf density using remote cameras as part of caribou habitat monitoring in Jasper National Park.
  • Density has continued to decline from 2003-2005 when wolf density was ~4.2-5.5 wolves/1000km², and 2007-2010 was ~3 wolves/1000km²; since 2011, density has been below 3 wolves/1000km².
  • In 2016/2017, density was calculated at 1.8 wolves/1000km² (with 5% loners assumed to be missed). In 2017/2018, density was calculated at 1.5 wolves/1000km² and in 2018/2019, density was calculated at 1.6 wolves/1000km² (also both including 5% loners assumed to be missed).
  • Delayed access has been implemented in all caribou habitat since 2014, but since the Maligne herd is extirpated the closure area has been adjusted to not include caribou habitat north of Trapper Creek. In the Tonquin caribou range, all access is prohibited from November 1 through February 15 inclusive. In the Brazeau range including the overlap region in Maligne Pass, all access is prohibited from November 1 to February 28. There are minimal trail incursions (<1 serious incursion) annually.
  • Delayed access and its impacts on wolf habitat selection was quantified in 2019 using accumulated wolf data to date. The analyses were done at two spatial scales, habitat selection within territory and habitat selection locally (along wolves’ paths; GPS step-by-step). The analyses also considered two time frames: 1) habitat selection patterns over the entire winter; 2) habitat selection patterns when trails were closed (early winter) compared to when they were open (late winter).
  • Results indicated that distance to trail and elevation were significant and important variables explaining habitat use for wolves within their territories. Changes in wolf habitat selection between seasons did not show a consistent pattern among wolves – some, but not all, wolves were more likely to avoid trails when they were closed compared to when they were open.
  • At the local movement (paths) scale, over the entire winter, we saw varied results wherein some (but not all) wolves selected packed trails. When looking at local movement and comparing changes between seasons (closed trails versus open trails), we observed selection for packed trails increase compared to when trails were unpacked. When there are more packed trails available (i.e. closure not in place), wolves increase selection for these easy-to-travel-upon features.
Critical habitat and assessing impacts
  • Parks Canada routinely implements a process to assess and document impacts to caribou individuals or habitat when new activities are being considered within caribou critical habitat; these assessments are posted to the Species at Risk Registry.
  • Parks Canada has worked with the University of Alberta and Foothills Research Institute to develop a framework to consider cumulative effects within caribou habitat; this work is ongoing. PCA is also working with Natural Resources Canada to develop vulnerability assessment for caribou that considers future landscape and climate change scenarios.
Alternate prey

Changes to alternate prey (moose, elk, deer) as a result of changes to predator density on Jasper’s north boundary is of interest to Parks Canada. A moose survey was conducted in March 2020 and camera data will be integrated to help monitor changes to large ungulates in this area of reduced wolf density.

Natural and human-made changes to forest cover can also potentially affect alternate prey in Type 2 Matrix range critical habitat. Since 2017, Parks Canada has completed several significant wildfire risk reduction projects to remove dead and dying pine trees. We also collected pilot project data on deer abundance on Pyramid Bench prior to a wildfire risk reduction project in 2018-2019. Remote camera data are tabulated and analyses are to be completed by March 2021. If the pilot project is successful, we will further consider implementing a three-year deer monitoring program to help inform how local fire risk reduction forest cover changes have contributed to alternate prey.

The À la Pêche herd, on Jasper’s north boundary, has been increasing over the past five years due to reduced predator density. Some of this herd live year-round in north Jasper, especially in Blue Creek, as has been noted for several decades in Parks Canada unpublished records. In an effort to understand what portion of the herd remains in the park, we conducted a brief visual survey to assess minimum count in Blue Creek in late fall (after migration would have happened). We counted 47 caribou, including 24 females and 9 calves, (uncorrected count) in 9 groups Blue Creek; this represents approximately 1/3 of the ALP herd.

Communications
  • From April 2017 through to March 2020 communications about South Jasper herds has been generally related to reminders about seasonal habitat closures and highway speed restrictions.
  • Information about caribou has been presented to stakeholders at Parks Canada’s Annual Public Forum as well as through direct engagement with members of the Jasper Indigenous Forum and partner agencies.
  • Caribou messages have been shared at outreach events with the help of volunteers at Edmonton’s Valley Zoo, Telus World of Science (including piloting an outreach kit in 2019), at festivals like the Deep Freeze Festival, Calgary International Children’s Festival, and Jasper in January, and through the What’s the Connection traveling exhibit throughout venues in Alberta and BC.
  • Caribou education programs have also taken place through the Marmot Learning Centre and Palisades Stewardship and Education Centre.
  • From 2016 to 2019, an in-park caribou interpreter engaged visitors through roving, campground, and theatre interpretation programs; coordinated the Caribou Ambassador volunteer program; and delivered outreach programs at special events.
Captive Breeding and future caribou conservation

Working with partners and experts, Parks Canada has drafted a preliminary project proposal to rebuild caribou herds in Jasper National Park through a conservation breeding and herd augmentation program that is being considered by the Agency for implementation.

2014 to 2016 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: Lalenia M. Neufeld, Caribou Biologist and Jean-François Bisaillon Caribou Project Manager

August 2017

Executive summary

Required knowledge for informed management relies on the caribou monitoring program, the results of which are reported herein. We report here on the results obtained in the past 3.5 years of our caribou monitoring program, from mid-2013 to March 2017.

Radio-collaring
  • Four radio collars remain on caribou in South Jasper National Park, as our population monitoring has moved wholly toward non-invasive methods.
  • We have had limited success locating and collaring wolves in the Signal, Sunwapta, and Brazeau packs over the past 3 years (compared to past years), and currently have only the Sunwapta pack collared (3 wolves) in addition to 1 lone wolf in the Sunwapta region.
  • Previously collared elk continue to be monitored; there are currently seven radio collared elk.
  • Deer capture continued in 2014 to support previous work (see past progress reports) and an additional 6 deer were collared (of 31 captures in clover traps) and another 4 mule deer were ground darted for collaring.
Caribou population estimates
  • Fall 2013 population minimum count in Maligne was 5; Brazeau was 8; and Tonquin was 38. Population estimate from scat DNA for the Tonquin was 45 (38-75, 95% CI). The visual survey population estimate for the Tonquin was 34 (27-64, 95% CI).
  • Fall 2014 population minimum count in Maligne was 2; Brazeau was 9; and Tonquin was 29. Population estimate from scat DNA for the Tonquin was 34 (34-34, 95% CI). The visual survey population estimate for the Tonquin was 33 (29-52, 95% CI).
  • Fall 2015 population minimum count in Maligne was 3; Brazeau was 12; and Tonquin was 25. Population estimate from scat DNA for the Tonquin was 26 (26-35, 95% CI). We did not do a visual survey estimate as the number of available marks is too low.
  • Fall 2016 population minimum count in Maligne was 3; Brazeau was 7; and Tonquin was 22. Population estimate from scat DNA for the Tonquin was 31 (26-56, 95% CI). We did not do a visual survey estimate as the number of available marks is too low.
Calf recruitment
  • There are no longer enough collars to conduct spring calf surveys (too hard to locate caribou without collars), so we rely on fall composition ratios to inform recruitment values.
  • Our visual survey results show an average of 38 calves to 100 cows since 2003 (geometric mean, 90% CI 26-52) across all herds combined, and some of the higher recorded values have been in recent years (but with low sample sizes and precision).
Fecal DNA population monitoring
  • Ten years of scat DNA amplification and genotyping has provided data on population size, survival, and recruitment over time.
  • From 2006-2015 a total of 1831 samples from the Tonquin were collected, from which 1678 were successfully genotyped and a total of 182 unique individuals were identified (94f, 82m).
  • The Tonquin population rate of change declined over the study period and especially in 2008, 2013-2014 lambda was significantly <1 (Table 5). The overall lambda for the study period was 0.86 [95% CI 0.82, 0.92]. Updated lambda for 2014-2015 was 0.91 (0.69, 1.21), but survival continued to be low 0.71 (0.51, 0.84).
Caribou population trend and abundance
  • Caribou continue to decline in Jasper National Park.
  • When herds decline to include <10 reproductive females, they have been shown to have a very low probability of persistence over the next 20 years. Once herds are at or past this point caribou may still exist in a region for many years, but they will ultimately continue to decline to extirpation. This limit of 10 reproductive females is known as the quasi-extinction threshold and is based on Population Viability Analyses from several herds, and with guidance from the IUCN criteria for assessing extinction risk.
  • All herds in south Jasper are near or beyond the quasi-extinction threshold, which means that the number of females is so small, the herd is not capable of overcoming baseline threats and recovering on its own. We estimate ~11 reproductive females remain in the Tonquin, and with fewer than this in other areas, we are at high risk of losing the Brazeau and Maligne herds.
  • In >10 years of DNA monitoring we have detected only rare male movement, and no female movement, between the herds.
Wolf density and delayed access
  • Wolf density may be the single most important factor that predicts caribou decline.
  • In winter 2013/14 within the south Jasper predator/prey area (which includes areas where wolf packs overlap with caribou herds and each wolf pack’s entire range), wolf density was 2.0 wolves/1000km² including 12.5% loners.
  • In 2014/15 density was estimated at 2.2 wolves/1000km² (estimated 15 wolves plus 12.5% loners).
  • In 2015/16 density was calculated at 2.5 wolves/1000km² (with 5% loners because a known loner was accounted for in the total number already). The higher value is due to a temporary pack that was using the townsite area in early 2016.
  • Density has continued to decline from 2003-2005 when wolf density was ~4.2-5.5 wolves/1000km², and 2007-2010 was ~3 wolves/1000km²; since 2011, density has been below 3 wolves/1000km².
  • Delayed access is implemented in all caribou habitat since 2014. In the Tonquin caribou range all access is prohibited from November 1 through February 15 inclusive. And for the Maligne-Brazeau range, all access is prohibited from November 1 to February 28. In 2014/15 we had 2 serious incursions (trails that penetrate >2km from closure boundary and access habitat above 1500m) into closed areas, and in 2015/16, we recorded only 1 serious incursion into caribou habitat.
  • The presence of a trail on wolf sinking depth is large and significant from mid-February to end of March, so that trails clearly offer a benefit to wolves travelling in deep snow; sinking potential (off-trail) did not change significantly as winter progressed (there was minimal hardening of snow sufficient to support wolves).
Critical habitat and assessing impacts
  • Critical habitat in Jasper National Park was designated when the Recovery Strategy was released in June 2014.
  • Parks Canada has developed a process to assess impacts to caribou individuals or critical habitat and have assessed many projects in critical habitat under this framework.
Recovery actions
  • We have refined existing recovery actions so they align better with new information (e.g. adjusting the timing and length of the caribou 70 km/h zone on the Icefields Parkway).
  • We have reviewed all potential actions that have been, or could be, undertaken by Parks Canada in better understanding and informing our next conservation steps.
Communications

Between late 2013 to 2016 fiscal years, we delivered numerous messages and presentations related to caribou to a wide audience in the form of field trips, interpretation booths, television appearances, informal and formal talks, and participation in Parks Canada events to meet our project’s outreach and education, and visitor experience goals.

Captive breeding and future caribou conservation

Parks Canada has been examining options to recover small herds and we provide a summary of these options.

2009 to 2013 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: Lalenia M. Neufeld, Caribou Biologist; Mark Bradley, Wildlife Biologist; and Saakje Hazenberg, Resource Management Officer

February 2014

Executive summary

Required knowledge for informed management relies on the caribou monitoring program, the results of which are reported herein. The caribou program has continued to grow to incorporate additional partnerships with universities. It has also expanded to include other species that are important to understanding the predator-prey dynamic in Jasper National Park and its effects on caribou persistence (Hebblewhite et al. 2007). We report here on the results obtained in the past 3 years of our caribou monitoring and research program.

Radio-collaring
  • In the past, we aimed to maintain 20 VHF radio-collars on caribou to maximize precision in population parameter estimates and trend; however, having used scat DNA collection in parallel with collar surveys since 2006, we are increasingly confident that we can rely on scat DNA non-invasive population estimation, and as a result stopped capturing and collaring caribou in 2011. There remain 8 active VHF collars on the air as of August 2013.
  • The current caribou collar distribution is 1 VHF collar in the Brazeau, 2 in the Maligne, and 5 in the Tonquin.
  • We have maintained collars on wolves in the Signal, Sunwapta, and Brazeau packs for much of the past few years and in addition have collared the Pyramid and Robson packs. At the time of publication, we suspect we’ve lost contact with the Brazeau and Sunwapta packs, and are unsure of the Pyramid pack’s home range territory.
  • In collaboration with the University of Calgary we have collared 21 deer in the early winters of 2012 and 2013 to initiate a study of deer population trends. This is an important element in understanding the predator-prey dynamic in Jasper National Park and work will continue in 2014.
  • We have captured 2 new elk and recaptured 7 elk to replace expiring GPS collars with VHF collars, which were used to conduct an elk population survey in 2013. Additionally, 7 townsite elk were captured to support a University of Alberta aversive conditioning study.
Caribou population estimates
  • Fall 2012 population estimate was not possible to calculate as we were unable to conduct the Tonquin survey; we are awaiting DNA population results
  • Fall 2011 population estimate: 71 caribou (90% C.I. 64 - 92). We observed 64 caribou and saw 9 of 12 radio collars in the Tonquin.
  • Fall 2010 population estimate: 73 caribou (90% C.I. 72 - 102) plus 6 in the Maligne giving an estimate of79 (90% C.I. 78 - 108). We observed 61 caribou in the Tonquin/Brazeau, and a minimum of 72 including the Maligne and missing animals found with telemetry. We observed 10 of 12 radio collars.
  • Fall 2009 population estimate: 87 caribou (90% C.I. 87 – 96). We observed 87 caribou and saw all available radio collars (12 in the Tonquin/Brazeau).

This shows a marked decline from the previous years’ estimates (2008: 127 caribou (90% C.I. 114-157), 2007: 93 caribou (90% C.I. 82-117), 2006: 151 caribou (90% C.I. 126-207) and 2005: 147 caribou (90% C.I. 104-176). These were in turn well below the 1988 minimum number of 153 caribou (population guess: 175-200).

Calf recruitment
  • March 2013: 53 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 37-74)
  • March 2012: 41 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 32-50)
  • March 2011: 20 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 17-23)
  • March 2010: 19 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 10-28)

In the four years preceding this report, recruitment values fluctuated high-low-high-low. Calf recruitment was higher in March 2009 (39 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 23-54) than in 2008 (21 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 13-30)); higher again in 2007 (42 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 31-53)) and lower in 2006 (13 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 7-20)). Decreasing sample size in recent years has led to greater uncertainty, but the trend in the last 2 years has been positive and there is a statistically significant difference between 2010 and 2013. Given low numbers of collars and difficulty locating caribou in March, we are unlikely to continue calf surveys in the future.

Fecal DNA research

In 2006 we partnered with the University of Manitoba to initiate a population monitoring research program using fecal DNA. Visual and scat population estimation techniques have produced similar results, though the fecal DNA estimate produces higher precision. The method has produced reliable results and we intend to use this less invasive technique for future population monitoring.

Fecal morphometric and hormone content have been shown to be useful in identifying demographics (age-class) of caribou in Jasper. Non-invasive fecal sampling for use in cohort analysis and in combination with mark-recapture methods may provide valuable insight on the age-structure of woodland caribou populations.

From 2006-2012 1,646 samples were amplified at 10 microsatellite loci and unique individuals were further amplified at an additional 8 loci. Parentage assignment was determined and a consequent pedigree was constructed. Parent-offspring and sibling relationships were found between individuals belonging to different herds indicating that some movement of caribou has occurred between herds. Fecal DNA has the potential to assess the reproductive fitness of animals in a population, the social structure of caribou, and for monitoring caribou movements within and between populations.

Wolf movement and kill-rates: Cavell Road winter closure

Access of winter caribou habitat by wolves can be artificially enhanced by the maintenance of packed snow trails and roads. Improved travel rates by wolves on packed snow trails has been demonstrated by telemetry studies throughout Canadian caribou range, as well as within Jasper National Park itself. Since 2009, there has been a Superintendent’s closure of the Astoria trail/Cavell Meadows area from first snowfall until February 15th. Preliminary results of travel and kill rate analyses indicate that wolves selected packed or cleared trails/roads for travel, travelled faster on packed or cleared trails/roads, and were more likely to use the Cavell Valley when the road was packed compared to when it was not. Further analysis is ongoing.

Canadian Rockies Woodland Caribou Project

Parks Canada collaborated in this regional research program exploring predator/prey dynamics by relocating wolf kill-sites from four packs within Jasper National Park. Packs varied in their diet composition, location of kill-sites, and number of kills per unit time. Raw data were provided to PhD candidate Nick DeCesare for analysis, the results of which can be seen in a series of publications over the past several years. These analyses contribute both to our understanding of the predator / prey dynamics in the park as well as to conservation applications, such as the role of caribou translocations in augmenting small herds.

Jasper data were also shared with post-doctoral fellow Dr. Hugh Robinson who modeled relationships between fire, caribou, wolves, elk and moose to aid prescribed fire and caribou recovery goals.

Primary prey research – elk and FireSmart

Through the FireSmart program forest modification has occurred throughout the Three Valley Confluence area of Jasper National Park. An ongoing study with colleagues at the University of Calgary will aim to determine how elk are affected by forest modification, examine the recourses that are critical to elk in Jasper National Park, and identify factors and variables that might influence the species’ decline.

Consultations

Following the release of the Conservation Strategy for Southern Mountain Caribou in Canada’s National Parks, an on-line comment form was available on the Parks Canada website. The public was invited to submit their feedback over a two-month period. The Conservation Strategy and background information were also sent to Aboriginal partners of the mountain national parks and consultations were held with the First Nations through the spring and summer of 2012.

Generally, all showed strong support for caribou recovery, and First Nations groups expressed a desire to be more actively engaged in the process. Feedback from both the public and Aboriginal engagement activities will help inform management decisions for caribou conservation and guide revisions to the strategy.

Communications

Jasper National Park staff have delivered messages and presentations related to caribou to a wide audience in the form of field trips, lawn displays, television appearances, informal and formal talks, and participation in Parks Canada events. They have also published caribou project research in several peer-reviewed scientific journals.

2007 to 2008 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: Lalenia M. Neufeld, Caribou Biologist and Mark Bradley, Wildlife Biologist

August 2009

Executive summary

Phase I of the Jasper Woodland Caribou Recovery Action Plan was implemented in 2005. Its larger goals were to increase awareness of woodland caribou and recommend a suite of actions to mitigate factors contributing to caribou decline. Implementation of recovery actions began in the 2005-2006 fiscal year, shortly after the Plan was signed by Parks Canada. In the fall of 2007 the Mountain Parks Caribou Coordinating Committee initiated development of a conservation strategy for caribou in the mountain national parks. The strategy is intended to contribute towards meeting Parks Canada’s obligations under Canada's National Parks Act and the Species at Risk Act. Key direction for caribou recovery and sustainability, that is aligned with Parks Canada’s mandate of ecological integrity, public education and visitor experience, will be formulated with the participation of the public and Aboriginal groups and incorporated into the respective management plans during the 2009 review.

Required knowledge for informed management relies on the caribou monitoring program, the results of which are reported herein. The program has grown in the past few years to incorporate several partnerships with university research. It has also expanded to include other species that are important to understanding the predator-prey dynamic in Jasper National Park and its effects on caribou persistence (e.g. Hebblewhite et al. 2007). We report on the results we’ve obtained in the past 2 years of our caribou monitoring program.

Radio-collaring
  • Aim to maintain 20 radio-collars (emphasis on VHF collars) on caribou in order to maximize precision in population parameter estimates and trend. Current collar distribution is 4 in the Brazeau (0 GPS; 4 VHF), 1 in the Maligne (0 GPS; 1 VHF), and 13 in the Tonquin (3 GPS; 10 VHF).
  • Parks Canada has maintained GPS and VHF collars on wolves in the Signal, Sunwapta, and Brazeau packs.
Population estimates
  • Fall 2008 population estimate: 127 caribou (90% C.I. 114-157). We observed 106 caribou and saw 15 of 18 radio-collars.
  • Fall 2007 population estimate: 93 caribou (90% C.I. 82-117. We observed 74 caribou and 15 of 19 radio-collars. Although a precise estimate, the result may not be accurate, as it is lower than both the 2008 and 2006 estimates.
  • Fall 2006 population estimate: 151 caribou (90% C.I. 126-207). We located 111 caribou and 11 of 15 radio-collared caribou. Waiting for good snow conditions contributed to a more successful survey.
  • Fall 2005 estimate was 147 (90% C.I. 104-276). We located 82 caribou and 5 of 9 collars without the use of telemetry.
  • 1988 minimum number: 153 (population guess: 175-200)
Calf recruitment
  • March 2009: 39 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 23-54)
  • March 2008: 21 calves per 100 cows (90% C.I. 13-30)

In the past four years, recruitment values have fluctuated high-low-high-low. Calf recruitment was higher in March 2007 compared to 2006: 13 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 7-20) in 2006; 42 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 31-53) in 2007.

Genetic diversity via fecal DNA collection

Preliminary results indicate that DNA-based mark-recapture modeling may be a valuable tool in estimating caribou population size. There are still some discrepancies between the visual survey estimates and DNA mark-recapture estimates, but year-to-year consistency in the DNA-based estimates, in addition to good precision, gives us confidence in the method. We report here only on preliminary findings, and expect that some findings may change.

Canadian Rockies Woodland Caribou Project Program
  • Parks Canada, a partner in this regional research program, has collaborated on objectives related to predator/prey dynamics by relocating wolf kill-sites from four packs within Jasper National Park. Packs varied in their diet composition, location of kill-sites, and number of kills per unit time. Raw data were provided to PhD candidate Nick DeCesare for future analysis.
Primary-prey aerial surveys
  • Twenty-three elk were collared in Jasper National Park, including 9 GPS collars. We used collars for mark-resight population estimates of elk (via aerial survey) in early winter 2008 and 2009. Survey units were stratified and methods followed guidelines set forth by Unsworth et al. (1994).
  • Elk were estimated at 410 (90% C.I. 337-483) in 2008 at 435 (90% C.I. 368-502) in 2009 for Jasper National Park, not including the Brazeau drainage.
Gastrointestinal nematodes in Jasper National Park
  • In partnership with University of Calgary researcher Nathan deBruyn, Parks Canada collected and analyzed fecal samples from caribou in the A la Peche and Tonquin herds.
  • Samples from the A la Peche (collected in June) showed 100% prevalence for gastrointestinal nematodes in fecal pellets, while samples from the Tonquin (collected in August) showed 87% prevalence.
  • The A la Peche animals had noticeably higher egg counts than those sampled from the Tonquin, though this may have been a seasonal variation. Follow-up work will take place in summer 2009.
Communications

Jasper National Park staff have delivered messages and presentations related to caribou to a wide audience in the form of field trips, lawn displays, television appearances, informal and formal talks, and participation in Parks Canada events.

2005 to 2007 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: Lalenia M. Neufeld, Caribou Biologist and Mark Bradley, Wildlife Biologist

August 2007

Executive summary

Phase I of the Jasper Woodland Caribou Recovery Action Plan was implemented in 2005. Its larger goals were to increase awareness of woodland caribou and recommend a suite of actions to mitigate factors contributing to caribou decline. Implementation of recovery actions began in the 2005-2006 fiscal year, shortly after the Plan was signed by Parks Canada. Phase I is due to finish in 2007, after which further consultation with the Recovery Action Team and others will ensue in order to develop Phase II. In the meantime, we report here on Phase I progress and continued caribou monitoring as part of the Jasper Caribou Project, which began in 2001.

In this progress report, details on many of the recommended actions as part of Phase I of the Action Plan are included, such as:

  • Implement dynamic speed limits and educational efforts to reduce the number of caribou-vehicle collisions
  • Step-up enforcement/compliance on road speeds in caribou areas
  • Eliminate use of road salt in caribou wintering areas or deter caribou from highways using lithium chloride.
  • Restrict dogs to trails that are not in important caribou habitat
  • Track-set ski routes into non-caribou habitat to offer skiers options
  • Minimize off-trail use in areas with high quality caribou habitat
  • Prevent new trails from developing in areas of important caribou habitat
  • Educate trail users to promote personal choices that benefit caribou
  • Promote recreation use only in areas that don't have key seasonal caribou habitat
  • Create guidelines for aircraft flying near high quality caribou habitat
  • Investigate the use of fladry to inhibit wolf travel on packed trails in winter
  • Protect or enhance high quality caribou habitat using fire management

Preliminary results – phase I and caribou monitoring program

Radio-collaring
  • Aim to maintain 20 radio collars (emphasis on VHF collars) on caribou in order to increase precision in population parameter estimates and trend.
  • Current collar distribution is 6 in the Brazeau (4 GPS; 2 VHF), 3 in the Maligne (2 GPS; 1 VHF), and 13 in the Tonquin (5 GPS; 8 VHF).
  • Parks Canada has maintained GPS and VHF collars on wolves in the Signal, Sunwapta, and Maligne/Brazeau packs. The Medicine pack has not been observed in recent years; they may have moved off or otherwise dispersed.
Population estimates
  • Fall 2006 population estimate for South Jasper: 151 caribou (90% C.I. 126-207). We located 111 caribou and 11 of 15 radio-collared caribou. Waiting for good snow conditions contributed to a more successful survey.
  • Fall 2005 estimate was 147 (90% C.I. 104-276). We located 82 caribou and 5 of 9 collars without the use of telemetry.
  • Fall 2004 population estimate: 100 caribou (90% C.I. 60-255). We located 43 caribou and 3 of 7 radio-collared caribou.
  • Fall 2003 survey population estimate: 107 (95%C.I. 88-158)
  • 1988 minimum number: 153 (population guess: 175-200)
Calf recruitment
  • Calf recruitment was lower in March 2006 compared to 2005: 13 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 7-20) in 2006; 23 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 10-33) in 2005. In March 2007, calf recruitment was calculated at 42 calves per 100 cows (90% CL = 31-53).
Genetic diversity via faecal DNA collection
  • New partnership with Micheline Manseau of Parks Canada aims to develop and refine non-invasive monitoring techniques.
  • Collected 173 “marks” and 94 “recaptures” in two scat collection surveys to be used in a population estimate. Samples have been sent to Dr. Manseau for analysis.
Fladry experiment
  • During the winter of 2005-2006, Jasper National Park initiated a project to examine using fladry as a means of deterring wolves from using trails. Six trails were chosen for treatment and monitoring.
  • 83 transect surveys were conducted at fladry sites; wolf tracks were observed a total of 24 times (controls and fladry-present). Wolves diverted their path away from the observation transect during two (of 13) occurrences at control sites. Wolves diverted their movement path during two (of 11) occurrences during the treatment phase.
  • There was no significant effect of treatment on wolf avoidance of trails (df= 19, p = 0.650). There was also no significant effect of number of wolves present (df = 19, p = 0.424) or snow depth (df = 19, p = 0.456) on wolf avoidance of fladry gates.
  • No evidence that fladry was an effective measure to deter wolves from utilizing human-packed trails; although sample sizes are small, we do not anticipate continuing this experiment.
Highway signs and speed monitoring
  • We monitored day and night travel speeds at various locations (70kph zone and 90kph zone) on the Parkway in winter 2005.
  • During the daylight hours, a significantly smaller proportion of drivers sped through the 70kph zone when their speed was posted or when a message flashed as compared to when no message or radar was present. At night, a larger proportion of drivers sped when a message or radar posting was present as compared to no message or radar.
  • In the 90kph zone, there was no difference between the proportion speeding when a message was present or when radar was present during the daylight hours. At night, a significantly smaller proportion of drivers sped when their speed was posted using radar.
Lithium chloride on highways
  • We are testing the addition of lithium chloride to regions where caribou are known to access the highway – on Highway 93 and the Maligne Lake road.
  • More animals were noted in control (untreated) areas, but sample sizes are very small to date. More data are required, probably several years’ worth, before final conclusions are drawn.
  • Recommend extending the site to the north at Beauty Creek.
Track-setting in new areas
  • New cross-country ski options were made available around the town-site and track setting was moved away from areas that were in caribou habitat. Trails are being monitored for human and wildlife use, but data have not yet been compiled.
Increased enforcement and compliance regarding dog regulations
  • Very few cases of non-compliance were enforced. Remote camera monitoring detected more occasions of non-compliance.
  • In general, compliance was good with the no-dogs in caribou habitat regulation.
Effect of telemetry flights and aircraft on caribou
  • We used existing data from GPS collars and historic telemetry flights to look at longer-term effects of flights on caribou movement.
  • The presence of a flight did not affect movement rates from before the flight compared to after the flight, at either a 1-day or 5-day time interval.
  • Caribou moved at a significantly greater rate on the day of a flight compared to five days following the flight, when their movement rates decreased substantially.
2004 to 2005 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: Jesse Whittington, Mark Bradley, and Geoff Skinner, Wildlife Biologists

June 2005

Executive summary

The South Jasper Woodland Caribou Research Project started in 2001 to address the following objectives:

  1. Establish confidence limits around population estimates, survival rates, and calf recruitment rates to determine whether the caribou population in South Jasper is decreasing.
  2. Quantify the level of genetic isolation of caribou in Tonquin, Maligne, and North Banff.
  3. Determine what topographic and vegetative factors affect the caribou distribution and then create predictive maps of caribou habitat quality.
  4. Examine how people affect caribou habitat quality.
  5. Determine whether caribou are subject to higher predation risk in winter because of wolf access to caribou range on ploughed roads and packed ski trails.
  6. Identify factors affecting terrestrial and arboreal lichen occurrence and develop fire management guidelines to protect or improve lichen abundance.
  7. Communicate research results to the public.
  8. Use research results to assist with caribou recovery.

Preliminary results

Radio-collaring
  • Retrieved data from 7 GPS collared caribou in Fall 2004. Unable to retrieve data from 3 GPS collared caribou because of water damage (two caribou died in water).
  • Retrieved data from 3 GPS collared wolves. Batteries failed prematurely. One wolf dispersed from Sunwapta Falls to the north east of JNP.
  • Radio-collared eleven caribou in Fall 2004 (10 GPS, 1 VHF). Only one group of caribou in the Maligne Range therefore redistributed collars (3 Maligne, 4 Jonas Pass, 4 Tonquin).
  • Placed GPS and VHF collars on wolves such that there was one GPS and one long lasting VHF collar on the Signal, Medicine, and Maligne (new) packs. In late winter we placed an additional GPS collar on the Signal Pack. One Signal wolf dispersed east of Saskatchewan Crossing where it was killed outside BNP.
Population estimates
  • Fall 2004 population estimate: 100 caribou (95% C.I. 56-336). Found 43 caribou and 3 of 7 radio-collared caribou. Missing caribou were in treed areas of the upper subalpine. Patchy snow and harsh light conditions created difficult survey conditions.
  • Fall 2003 survey population estimate: 107 caribou (95% C.I. 86-174). Found 78 caribou and 8 of 11 radio-collared caribou.
  • 1988 minimum number: 153 (population guestimate 175-200)
  • Recommend evaluating the benefits of conducting population surveys in mid-summer when caribou are almost exclusively in the alpine.
Calf recruitment
  • Calf recruitment was high in March 2004 and 2005: 32 calves per 100 cows (95% CL = 15-53) in 2004; 23 calves per 100 cows (95% CL = 11 – 40) in 2005.
Survival
  • Caribou were 3.8 times more likely to survive from 2001-2005 compared to 1988-1991. Survival rates were very low from 1988-1991 (12 mortalities in 29 caribou years) and were relatively high from 2001-2005 (3 mortalities in 29 caribou years).
  • Low sample sizes lead to large uncertainty in survival estimates. In 2001-2005, annual survival rate was 0.932 (95% C.I. = 0.566-0.989).
Genetic diversity
  • Second year of DNA samples were sent for analysis, but we have not received the analysis.
  • From the few samples sent in the first year, preliminary results suggest that caribou in the Maligne and Tonquin have high genetic variability (indicates movement between subpopulations) but had surprisingly different alleles (genetic composition). Caribou in Banff had 3 times less genetic variability compared to caribou in Jasper.
  • No radio-collared caribou from 1988-1991 (29 caribou years) or from 2001-2005 (29 caribou years) have travelled between the Maligne and Tonquin, north of Highway 16, nor south of Highway 11 into Banff.
Caribou habitat and trails
  • Created models of caribou resource selection for each ecoregion (Alpine and Subalpine) and for each season: Summer (June-August), Fall (September-November), Winter (December-February), and Spring (March-May). Created predictive maps of caribou occurrence for Banff and Jasper.
  • Added distance to low and medium use trails to the resource selection models.
  • Caribou had stronger negative associations with trails in the Alpine compared to the Subalpine.
  • 80% of caribou had negative associations with trails in the Alpine during Summer and Fall.
  • Less than 40% of caribou had negative associations with trails in the Alpine during Winter and Spring and in the Subalpine (except Winter when ~50% of the caribou avoided trails).
Wolf travel routes and Trails
  • Wolves selected roads as travel routes in all seasons except Summer.
  • Wolves selected trails as travel routes in all seasons except Fall.
  • Wolves more strongly selected trails at high elevation compared to low elevations in Winter and Spring.
Caribou, wolves, and people
  • Two mechanisms may explain why caribou were negatively associated with trails: (1) avoid the presence of people on trails (2) reduce their risk of predation from wolves that travel on trails. The first mechanism (avoidance of people) is more likely in the alpine during summer and fall. The second mechanism is more likely in the subalpine during winter.
2002 to 2003 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: George Mercer, Jesse Whittington, Geoff Skinner, and Debbie Mucha, Wildlife Biologists

January 2004

Executive summary

Implementing recovery actions will first require research to better assess the status of woodland caribou and to determine causes of the current decline. Then, monitoring will be required to determine the effectiveness of recovery plan implementation. The South Jasper Woodland Caribou Project will provide information to support recovery efforts. The specific objectives of this study are:

  1. Establish confidence limits around population estimates and determine whether the caribou population in South Jasper is decreasing.
  2. Determine what topographic and vegetative factors affect the caribou distribution and then create predictive maps of caribou habitat quality.
  3. Determine what factors affect wolf distribution and create a predictive map of wolf occurrence.
  4. Examine how human activity and human developments affect both wolf and caribou distributions.
  5. Determine whether caribou are subject to higher predation risk in winter because of wolf access to caribou range on ploughed roads and packed ski trails.
  6. Determine levels of caribou movement between the Maligne and Tonquin ranges.
  7. Identify factors affecting terrestrial and arboreal lichen occurrence and develop fire management guidelines to protect or improve lichen abundance.
Study design

The first full year of the project began in 2002/03 and included a number of elements. A study design was first developed in conjunction with external wildlife specialists and park stakeholders in early 2002. The environmental assessment for the research project included the results of a study design workshop and was made available for public review in December 2002. A second study design workshop, held in January 2003, identified a range of options for experimentally manipulating human use in the Maligne Valley of Jasper National Park. The human-use treatment for years 3 and 4 will be decided in early 2004.

Collaring

As a pilot study, two caribou were fitted with GPS collars in October 2001. These collars were removed the following spring and ten caribou were fitted with GPS collars in October 2002 and one caribou retained a VHF collar from the previous year. Seven and three GPS collars were deployed in the Maligne and Tonquin ranges respectively. Approximately four groups of caribou represented most caribou in the Maligne range. While the caribou did not show strong fidelity to a particular group, additional collars in the Maligne would have provided little additional information on caribou distributions. Four wolves in two wolf packs were also fitted with GPS collars in March 2003. All four collars failed by October 2003. This progress report discusses the results of caribou and wolf data collected from the first full year of this study (October 2002 through October 2003). All ten caribou and all four wolf GPS collars were redeployed for the second full year of this study in fall – early winter 2003. Throughout the study weather data are being collected at Environment Canada weather stations and human use data are being collected with back-country camping permits and remote road and trail counters.

Population estimate and trend

Due to funding limitations and the early onset of winter conditions, no population survey was conducted in southern Jasper National Park in 2002. The population survey in 2003 found 78 animals. This was above the 2001 count of 48 animals suggesting the 2001 result was an anomaly but still well below the 1993-2000 average of 110 animals. A population estimate of 107 was calculated based on a re-sighting of 8 out of 11 radio-collared animals. Compared to the number of animals counted in 1988 (153) and the rough 1988 population estimate of between 175-200 animals, the 2003 count and population estimate represent a decline of almost 50% in the south Jasper herd. The most pronounced decline was in the Maligne area where only 19 animals were counted compared to a high of 68 in 1998.

Three caribou were killed from collisions with vehicles on Highway 93 south of Sunwapta Falls during 2002/03. This was the most caribou killed by vehicles in Jasper National Park for more than a decade and represents approximately 3% of the total South Jasper population. In response to these mortalities, road side signage was developed and installed on Highway 93 South between Jonas Slide and Tangle Hill to warn motorists about caribou frequenting this area.

Caribou movements

Caribou travelled along the Maligne Range from Signal Mountain as far as Poboktan Pass. They ranged throughout the Tonquin and one caribou travelled into the upper Fraser River of B.C. and into Hugh Allen Creek then later returned to the Tonquin. No caribou travelled between the Maligne and Tonquin ranges. Caribou appeared to travel less during deep snows and cold temperatures but these climatic conditions did not appear to affect their elevational distribution. Wolves approached within 1 and 2 km of caribou on 2 and 8 occasions during summer 2003. Caribou did not increase their distance travelled after these encounters.

Caribou resource selection

Caribou selected mid- to high elevations throughout the year and spent more time in the alpine in summer compared to winter. Caribou selection of most topographic and vegetative features depended on both season and ecoregion. For instance, when in the subalpine they selected open spruce – subalpine fir forests over pine forests year round. They selected forests greater than 150 years old in winter but not summer. Similarly, caribou selected areas with low solar radiation and with well drained soils in winter but not summer. Caribou rarely travelled within 500 m of roads, but the apparent effect of roads in the resource selection models was accounted for by other correlated covariates such as elevation. Caribou avoided trails with high human use in summer (alpine and subalpine) and winter (subalpine only). They neither selected nor avoided high use trails in the winter in the alpine presumably because very few high winter use trails exist in the alpine.

Lichen occurrence and abundance

Terrestrial lichens were most abundant at higher elevations and areas with well drained soils, shallow slopes, higher canopy cover and higher variation in canopy cover. Trees with abundant arboreal lichen were more likely to occur at higher elevations, in areas with shallow slopes, in older forests, in forests with a higher proportion of spruce, and forests with large basal areas (larger trees rather than just a higher density of trees). The relative importance of terrestrial versus arboreal lichens has not been quantified.

Wolf movements

The two wolf packs occupied different territories in the Maligne and Athabasca Valleys. The home range estimate for the TVC wolf pack equaled an area of 413 km2 that extended from 12 Mile bridge in the northeast to Meadow Creek in the west and Hardisty Hill in the south. The home range estimate for the Medicine wolf pack equaled an area of 560 km2 that extended within the Maligne Valley from the Maligne Hostel in the north to Maligne Lake in the south and the Rocky river in the east. The TVC and Medicine pack home range estimates overlapped the combined Maligne caribou home ranges by 24 and 196 square kilometres respectively. The size of both wolf home ranges appears to have increased since the time of GPS collar recovery based on ongoing monitoring of VHF collared animals.

The daily distances travelled by the wolves during the study period were not significantly different for the collared members of the two packs. The Medicine pack wolves travelled a median distance of 2.6 kilometers per day with a maximum distance of 43.8 kilometers in one day. The TVC pack wolves travelled a median distance of 4.3 kilometers per day with a maximum distance of 52 kilometers in one day. Both wolf packs appeared to travel shorter daily distances in April and May, and longer daily distances through June, July, and August. The Medicine wolf pack spent most of its time in the lower and upper subalpine ecoregions while the TVC pack spent most of its time in the montane ecoregion.

The relationship of wolf locations to various topographic and human use features was also explored.

Communications

Communications and public consultation included study design workshops and presentations as well as regular summer programs at the Whistler Campground. Numerous communications products were prepared in 2002/03 including a project newsletter, roadside and trail signage and observation cards.

2001 to 2002 Jasper National Park Caribou Program Progress Report

Prepared by: George Mercer, Wildlife Biologist

November 2002

Executive summary

Population surveys of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in southern Jasper National Park, northern Banff National Park, the White Goat Wilderness Area and Siffleur Wilderness Area were conducted as part of a joint initiative between Parks Canada and Alberta Environmental Protection to assess the status of this species within protected areas in west-central Alberta. In recent years, woodland caribou in these areas have been in decline and increased monitoring efforts have been proposed.

This work complements efforts by the West-central Alberta Caribou Standing Committee to standardize monitoring of woodland caribou in west-central Alberta and address issues related to woodland caribou conservation through directed research.

A total of 50 animals were located in 18.4 hours of aerial surveys. No animals were located in the Siffleur Wilderness Area. Only one adult, male caribou was located in each of northern Banff National Park and the White Goat Wilderness Area. A total of forty-eight animals were located in southern Jasper National Park. This represents less than 50% of the long-term average count of 110 animals for south Jasper but may not reflect actual population size. Survey timing and conditions were similar to previous years, but anecdotal information suggests that woodland caribou may have moved out of the alpine earlier than normal and into the subalpine where they are more difficult to locate.

A population viability analysis conducted in 2002 for the population of Woodland Caribou occupying southern Jasper National Park suggests that this population is not viable. The analysis indicated a negative growth rate for the population and predicted extirpation in a mean time of approximately 40 years (Flanagan 2002).

In the fall of 2001, four adult, female woodland caribou were captured and collared in southern Jasper National Park as part of a pilot study to assess the effectiveness of GPS collars in the Maligne Valley. This was intended as preliminary fieldwork prior to initiation of a long-term research and monitoring program in southern Jasper National Park. Initial efforts to capture and collar some of the few remaining woodland caribou in northern Banff National Park were unsuccessful.

The Southern Mountain and Boreal populations of woodland caribou are now classified as threatened in Canada (COSEWIC 2000), Blue-listed in Alberta, and Red-listed in British Columbia. Based on this classification, the proposed Species at Risk legislation will require development of a recovery plan for woodland caribou. Such an initiative will require improved population monitoring and research to assess the status of woodland caribou, determine causes of the current decline, and monitor the effectiveness of recovery plan implementation.

The proposed research and monitoring program for Jasper National Park is expected to increase the rigor of population monitoring and address a number of the management concerns related to woodland caribou conservation in the Jasper National Park.