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017 2017 Park Passes, Canada Rated a top tourism destination, Global Water Futures and Caribou in the Rockies

In this episode I’ll explain why you’ll still need a park pass to visit Canada’s National Parks this year, even though that admission is free of charge for the duration of 2017. In addition, Canada has just been placed in the number one destination to visit in 2017, according to the New York Times. We’ll examine new funding that helps to turn Canmore into a hub for water research, followed by a look at some of the current trends in climate as determined by NASA. Finally, we’ll take a look at the not so rosy future of Caribou in the mountain west.

Story 1 – Park Passes are still necessary

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year you’ll likely be aware that the federal government has decided to make entry into Canada’s national parks completely free for 2017.

Parks still needs to be able to track the number of visitors to national parks, so passes will still be necessary. If you’re planning a trip to any of Canada’s National Parks this year, you can pre-order the pass for free online by visiting http://bit.ly/2iUBQVD

For the national parks, the 2017 summer reservations opened on January 11, so again, book as early as possible by visiting www.reservation.pc.gc.ca

Outside of the national parks, there are also many other camping options. You can reserve sites in Alberta Provincial Parks by visiting www.reserve.albertaparks.ca The site opens for bookings on Feb 21, 2017 so if you’d like to reserve your site, be on the site on that day. One important note, they are planning on closing Three Sisters Campground, just on the outskirts of Banff National Park, at the community of Dead Man’s Flats. This will take another 60 campsites out of the already limited availability for camping during the summer months. Reservations for British Columbia’s Provincial Parks can be made at www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/reserve.

The key this year is planning ahead. We expect the parks to break visitation records and I want to help you to have the kind of visit that you have in your mind’s eye. The key is planning and visiting whatever destination you want to explore as early in the day as possible. Parking Lots at many of the Rockies most famous attractions, places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, are usually full by 9am. Be there at 7am and you can have a truly magical experience…and besides, sites like these are really morning scenes. Don’t forget, the sun comes up very early here so by 7 am  the sun is already getting high in the sky.

Plan ahead, get a good alarm clock, and I’ll see you this summer.

Story 2 – We’re Number One

Canada has been getting a lot of kudos lately. We’re a fabulous place to live and an awesome place to visit – and the world seems to be getting the message.

This week, the New York Times put out its list of 52 places to go in 2017 and topping the list was Canada. In the past, places like Toronto, Ontario were on the list but this year, they entire nation got the nod.

According to the story, Canada’s 150th birthday is a great reason to visit Canada. There will be celebrations planned from coast to coast to coast throughout the year and, as we’ve already mentioned, all the national parks are free. In addition to Canada’s birthday, the city of Montreal, turns 375 this year, so they’ll also be celebrating both events.

Story 3 – Canmore Becomes a Hub of Water Research

There’s no arguing that water is the issue of the 21st century. With changing weather and climate patterns, we’re seeing more moisture in the mountains of Alberta and B.C. but we’re getting it in fewer, more extreme weather events. 2013 has become a stark reminder of just how vulnerable many areas are to catastrophic floods. It also moved the scientific community to increase the amount of research being focusing on issues directly and peripherally related to water.

Canmore has become the centre point for much of the research now taking place and Dr. John Pomeroy of the University of Saskatchewan is the lead researcher. Pomeroy is the Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, and Director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Hydrology. Pomeroy will serve as Associate Director of the Global Water Futures: Solutions to Water Threats in an Era of Global Change Initiative (or GWF), based in Canmore.

As part of a 900 million dollar federal funding initiative, the University of Saskatchewan was awarded $77.8 million to partner with the University of Waterloo, Wilfred Laurier University, and McMaster University. By combining grants received by those partners, total funding adds up to $143 million. This makes it the largest university led water research program in the world.

Story 4 – Climate Trends in 2016

NASA has released some updated statistics on climatic trends for 2016 and it seems that two particular climate change indicators are continuing to break records – global average temperature and Arctic sea ice extent.

For the first 6 months of 2016, each month set a record as the warmest respective month since record keeping began around 1880. The first 6 months of 2016 were also the warmest collectively on record, averaging 1.3°C or 2.4°F warmer than in the late 1800s.

Of the first 6 months of the year, 5 set a record for the lowest extent of Arctic sea ice since satellite records began in 1979. It is of particular importance that these two trends are working in unison. They are both reflections of the greenhouse effect with increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere holding more and more heat.

Story 5 – Mountain Caribou

Globally, things are not too rosy for caribou. Here in the Rockies, a 2009 avalanche along the slopes of Mount Hector killed the last 3 remaining caribou within the boundaries of Banff National Park. Jasper, bordering Banff to the north, still has caribou but they too are declining over time.

Caribou in the southern mountain population are currently listed as threatened according to the Species at Risk Act, however the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada lists the southern mountain population as endangered. They comprise some 19 herds across the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia and, at present, fully 13 of those 19 herds are in decline – with many likely to disappear.

In the mountain national parks, Parks Canada has identified 5 major threats to local populations. They include changes to predator prey interactions, human caused changes to the landscape that allow increased predator access to caribou, direct disturbances, loss of habitat and finally, stresses inherent to small populations.

Like moose, caribou are a northern specialist and have roamed the north country since the ice age. Unfortunately, without some major changes, their future is likely to be uncertain. Over the past 3 decades, populations of caribou in the mountain national parks have dropped from 800 individuals to less than 250 today.

One of the first steps in trying to build any kind of recovery program is to identify those areas that are most critical to caribou. By looking at areas that caribou currently and previously occupied, as well as looking at how caribou travel between areas of critical habitat, biologists can begin to get an idea of where to focus conservation efforts.

In the mountain parks, there are currently only 5 local herds. Four of them are in Jasper National Park and the Columbia south herd, is in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Park. Of the 4 herds in Jasper, only the A La Peche herd is currently stable with about 100 animals. Recent aerial surveys showed the Tonquin herd had approximated 30-34, the Brazeau around 15 and the Maligne herd has dropped to just a few individuals.

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