Work has begun on the caribou breeding facility in Jasper National Park. /SCOTT HAYES

By: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh

The complex task of constructing the caribou breeding facility has been met with a promising start.

“It looks great. They’re making some really fantastic progress out there,” said Josh Kummerfield, senior project manager with Parks Canada.  

The facility is expected to help restore dwindling caribou populations in Jasper National Park.

Since work on the project began in March, general contractor Landmark Solutions has undertaken some “forestry work,” removing trees from areas that will have roads and buildings, along with some forest thinning in the caribou pen areas. In all, 10 acres were completely cleared for those buildings, fences and alleyways.  

The remaining 55 acres will consist of a series of caribou pens that will be surrounded by fencing.

Crews will be doing further ground disturbance when installing deep utilities. This will bring potable water lines and septic systems onto the site.  

That work is all proceeding smoothly now, Kummerfield said.

According to the detailed impact assessment report, there were several reasons why the Geraldine site, located approximately 30 kilometres south of the Jasper townsite, was considered the preferred location for the caribou conservation breeding facility.

Among those reasons listed were several environmental conditions, including its similarity to typical caribou habitat combined with low human disturbance, its relative distance from large concentrations of other wild ungulates, protection from predators and its proximity to where the source caribou would be procured and released.

The location has a healthy understorey with a good number of immature young trees in the five-to-10-year age range. The contractor removed a lot of pine beetle-killed trees and some of the ladder fuels in the overstorey, so the ones that are left will get more of the sun and rain. They are going to grow up and create the next forest layer, Kummerfield said.

“That was our challenge during the finding of the project: trying to balance those two priorities of making sure that the facility is as resilient as possible to potential wildfire moving in, and also providing caribou habitat that looks as close to the habitat in the alpine and subalpine as you can in Jasper.”  

The proximity to utilities and other services was also noted in the impact assessment report.

Kummerfield explained that part of the delicateness of the project involves limiting the impact of operations as much as possible. That means not disturbing any more soil or vegetation any more than is absolutely needed to for the construction. They are striving to leave the caribou pens themselves as wild and as natural as possible.  

With any construction comes a number of impactful activities such as excavating several meters down to install water lines, putting in fence posts, and of course the structures that will be built.  

Limiting their footprint is a priority, Kummerfield said. It has been a challenge since the planning stage.

So far, he’s pleased.

“I’d say that it’s so far exceeding expectations,” he said, noting that work had a ticking clock agenda to complete the vegetation removal before the migratory bird nesting period began in mid-April.

“We were facing fairly aggressive timelines to complete that work. The contractor exceeded our expectations in that respect, that they were able to complete that work and more than they were even planning to.”

Once completed, the site will feature three buildings. The administration building will function as the operations centre with office space, meeting space, a small laboratory space and even accommodation spaces and a kitchen as some of the staff will be living there during certain parts of the year.

There will also be a handling barn for animal care. The infrastructure for this will include gates and sorting pens and the barn itself will include an examination facility where the animals can receive medical and health care.

The third building is a garage and maintenance building.

Geraldine Road has also been graded and compacted to strengthen the surface, making it safe for public and construction traffic. Public access on the road will be open from June 9 to Sept. 30, allowing vehicle traffic only during working hours (typically 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Such access, however, will be subject to restrictions and managed by the construction contractor to maintain safety.  

During non-working hours, Geraldine Road will be open to all users. Extra caution is advised as there will be roadside hazards such as steep slopes and open excavations.