A popular national park, located just 30 minutes east of Edmonton, is holding consultations with the public as it drafts a plan to deal with an overpopulation of elk, moose and bison. Among the options being considered is the rare phenomenon of allowing hunting in a Canadian national park.
“(It could) be done by park staff supported with indigenous partners as well as possibly open to the public,” said Robyn O’Neill, a communications officer with Elk Island National Park.
O’Neill is quick to point out the possibility of a cull is only one of the population management options the park is considering.
“The other options we have would be a direct sale to the abbatoir (slaughterhouse) and that would be for bison, moose or elk.”
She said bison could also be translocated to another park, as Elk Island National Park recently did when it had some of the ungulates moved to Banff.
READ MORE: Wild bison back in Banff National Park
Watch below: Parks Canada footage of the successful relocation of bison from Elk Island National Park to Banff National Park.
The first public consultation ahead of implementing a 10-year wildlife plan for the park was held last week. The next session will be held in Edmonton on Thursday.
“Right now in the park, because we are fully fenced, there’s overbrowsing happening to our rangeland into our forest,” O’Neill said. “The animals are eating a lot of the environment, they’re eating all the trees and more than the land can sustain.
“So how we address that is by actively managing populations and that’s why we’re looking at a variety of options and we’re in the planning stages.”
O’Neill said the options are more limited for elk and moose because they are concerned about disease transmission. Cases of chronic wasting disease, described by the Alberta government as a “progressive, fatal, degenerative disease of the brain of free-ranging or farmed ungulates,” were tracked in the park’s vicinity.
“Part of our responsibility as Parks Canada is ensuring that we have healthy populations and it’s not ethical if we have populations that are in the park and can’t be healthy and if we don’t do something about it, probably Mother Nature will,” O’Neill said.
“It’s more ethical if we can approach this now and come up with a good solution and deal with this.”
O’Neill said managing wildlife population is something that has been necessary in other parks but that Elk Island’s challenges are unique because it is the only fully-fenced national park in Canada.
“Animals don’t have the possibility of coming and going in and out of our park like they would in other national parks – that’s why we have to actively manage our populations and that’s part of the reason why we’ve done translocations in the past.”
Global News spoke to some visitors at the park on Monday night who held different opinions about how to address the health and environmental issues.
Smitha Fernandes said she is not normally a promoter of hunting but said she understands why it’s being considered in this case. She said she would be OK with such a proposal with close monitoring and with “some kind of licence that can be issued with the numbers of hunting that can be done.”
Merrill Aiken said she opposes the idea.
“We’re out here enjoying with family and friends and to have hunting out here would destroy that,” she said. “It’s Elk Island, that’s (wildlife) what you expect to see when you come out here.”
Park Canada will hold its open house on the issue in Edmonton on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Alfred H. Savage Centre.
O’Neill said Parks Canada hopes to have a draft plan in place in the fall and that it would continue to solicit feedback from the public until then.
-with files from Sarah Kraus