Parks Canada buyout of Jasper Park backcountry lodges praised by environmental group
An environmental group hails Parks Canada’s acquisition of two companies in Jasper National Park’s Tonquin Valley, a scenic and heavily visited destination also used by vanishing caribou herds.
“It’s a good step forward,” said Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association. “Reducing the recovery pressure on caribou throughout the year is really positive.”
Late last year, Parks Canada reached an agreement with both Tonquin Valley Adventures and Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge to purchase all of the companies’ infrastructure and fixed assets and terminate their professional licenses.
The operations had been in existence for many years and were part of a long tradition of packing horses into some of the most beautiful and accessible backcountry in the Rocky Mountains.
However, the Tonquin Valley is also an important habitat for one of Jasper’s dwindling herds of caribou. According to Parks Canada, the Tonquin herd has dwindled to nine breeding hens — too few to produce enough calves to expand the herd.
Campbell said the two lodges are in habitat used by caribou for calving, rearing and rutting, increasing the pressure the animals face from predators.
“There is clear evidence that the combined impact of trails and infrastructure is disruptive,” she said. “It can displace [caribou] from prime habitat.”
Parks Canada has been slowly closing winter access to the Tonquin for years.
Hiking trails into the region are now closed between November and May. The Alpine Club of Canada and Hostelling International also close their Tonquin facilities for the winter.
“Parks Canada’s primary goal for the Tonquin Valley is to enhance the ability of caribou and grizzly bears to thrive in the valley while balancing a strong desire to maintain the long and evolving history of human use of the area,” the agency said published in a December newsletter.
The owner of one of the lodges declined to comment.
The Tonquin herd is the largest of Jasper’s four herds, numbering about 50 members. One has just nine members left, another herd survives only due to severe wolf culls outside the park boundary, and the other has not been seen since 2018.
Park officials are considering trying to bring them back into captivity through a major captive breeding program. This $25 million project would permanently house up to 40 female and five male caribou in a heavily managed and monitored area of about one square kilometer surrounded by an electric fence.
A final decision on this project is expected early this year.