Parks not replacing carnivore position

By: Cathy Ellis

  |  Posted: Thursday, Feb 17, 2011 06:00 am

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A renowned scientist at the centre of wildlife research and conservation in the mountain national parks is retiring after three decades with Parks Canada – and the federal agency has no plan to replace him.

Dr. Mike Gibeau, an internationally recognized grizzly bear expert and Parks Canada’s carnivore specialist for the mountain parks, goes part-time March 3 before fully retiring on June 3.

There is no intention to re-staff Gibeau’s position, leaving critics stunned that Parks Canada appears to be continuing to whittle away its science program in the national parks.

Conservationists point to a failure to replace science manager Cliff White who retired more than a year ago as yet another example.

They also say there appears to be diminishing science budgets and note the cancellation of projects like the 10-year amphibian study on the Fairholme bench.

Mike McIvor, president of the Bow Valley Naturalists, said not replacing Gibeau is just one more example that “science is not very high on Parks Canada’s agenda at the moment”.

“It seems to be part of a larger picture that involves Parks Canada turning away from what at one time was a very highly regarded science program and one they took very seriously,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that not very long ago, Parks Canada would have pointed with pride to its science program, and now I don’t think there’s anything to look at.”

In his position, Gibeau coordinates the carnivore conservation and policy programs for all of the national parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

He has influenced design of wildlife research and grizzly bear and wolf conservation within the parks, but his work has reached far beyond the boundaries of mountain parks.

In this position, he liaised with other government jurisdictions in Canada and the United States and, notably, was Parks Canada’s point man on Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery team.

Beginning his career as a seasonal park warden in 1974, Gibeau went on to be principle researcher of the Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project and co-founder of the Central Rockies Wolf Project.

Parks Canada management says they are not filling Gibeau’s position.

They say they are not turning their back on science, and believe that Banff will have a stronger science program once restructuring of the resource conservation branch is completed by April 1.

Many of the duties of former science manager Cliff White will now fall to Bill Hunt, the new resource conservation manager for Banff National Park.

Parks is also hoping to add a senior biology position to help direct and coordinate inventory and monitoring for the wildlife and aquatics departments.

As well, there is talk of a carnivore biologist position for Banff, which would be at a much lower level than the position Gibeau currently holds.

“We’ve got a draft version of a biology position that will play a role in all sorts of carnivore management,” said Hunt. “We’ll be going through a hiring process if that position is approved.”

Hunt said he believes Banff National Park will have a stronger emphasis on science at the end of the day, whether it is prescribed burning, removal of non-native fish or exotic weeds.

“Through this renewal program we’ve moved out of law enforcement and trail crews have moved to the asset program, so our focus is strictly on resource conservation,” he said.

Kevin Van Tighem, superintendent of Banff National Park, said Parks has come a long way in management of grizzly bears and other carnivores, particularly since the Banff-Bow Valley Study.

“We have had someone with the expertise and understanding of how bears make a living in this landscape and on sustaining populations,” he said. “We’ll always have a need for that expertise, but some of the questions have changed…there’s new issues emerging.”

Meanwhile, the Bow Valley Naturalists have renewed calls for Parks Canada to set up a long-term science strategy and to put together a science advisory group.

“We’ve been pushing this for years, and so far, none of that has happened,” said McIvor.


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