With large carnivores in decline across the globe, Canada provides one of the greatest opportunities worldwide to ensure that large carnivores continue to thrive as part of a functioning predator-prey ecosystem. Yet the only places in Canada that our large carnivores are currently protected from hunting and trapping are in our national parks. One step outside of the invisible boundaries surrounding our national parks, our wolves, cougars, grizzly bears, lynx, bobcats and wolverines are immediately subject to be hunted and trapped.
The EWC’s Buffer Zones campaign is working toward a solution to that problem: Buffer Zones around our Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks that large carnivores are fully protected in. These Buffer Zones would still allow hunting, recreational activities and approved industrial development, yet would eliminate all large carnivore hunting and trapping, enabling a fully functioning predator-prey ecosystem.
Studies repeatedly show that North American parks, including the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site, that includes Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, are not large enough to fully protect wolves and other wide-ranging carnivores like grizzly bears, cougars and wolverines. When large carnivores cross these invisible national park boundaries and leave our protected areas, they are immediately subject to being hunted and trapped.
Even inside the parks, these predators are threatened by stresses such as human use and development inside parks (including towns, highways, and railways), as well as hunting, trapping, land development, and other pressures that occur outside park boundaries.
In many of our most prominent national parks, predator populations are low and have a low probability of persistence. Using wolves as an example, since their re-establishment (after being eradicated) in the Mountain National Parks of Jasper, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay in the 1980’s, wolves have faced ongoing threats at both a pack and population level from human activity within and outside of park boundaries. During the winter of 2018-19, at least 10 wolves from two separate Banff National Park families were killed in a trapline, baited into snares set just outside the park boundary. The previous winter, 2 Banff wolves died on the highway in the park and 2 others were killed by Parks Canada officials.
"‘Effectiveness of existing reserves that are too small, or have unsuitable configurations, could be improved by the creation of buffer zones."
- Paul Paquet
Other predators, including at-risk species like grizzly bears and wolverines, face similar threats from hunting, trapping, recreational use, mass tourism and transportation corridors. These cumulative impacts compromise the ecological integrity of the Parks; exploiting apex predators and subjecting wolves and other vulnerable wildlife to an ongoing struggle to survive in areas portrayed to the public as protected. As a result, our parks have been described as “sinks” rather than sources for predator populations, as they offer inadequate refuge from trophy hunting and trapping and can in fact increase threats to these animals.
Wolf ecologist Paul Paquet asserts that the ‘effectiveness of existing reserves that are too small, or have unsuitable configurations, could be improved by the creation of buffer zones’. Creating buffer zones, or extended areas of protection from hunting, trapping and other consumptive practices, can enhance a park’s ability to offer the protection needed for these wide-ranging carnivores.
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Maurice Hornocker, Sharon Negri