The Association for Mountain Parks Protection & Enjoyment protecting parks * protecting tourism

Home » AMPPE in the News » CPAWS calls for focus on nature, environment

July 14, 2016 – The Rocky Mountain Outlook. Story by Cathy Ellis.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is calling on Parks Canada to put a stronger focus on nature and the environment in national parks and less on development and increasing visitation, particularly in Banff and Jasper national parks.

In its recently released annual report, CPAWS is calling on Parks Canada to re-focus on its legal obligation to protect nature as the first priority for managing national parks, and to stop proposed development in Banff and Jasper National Parks.

CPAWS officials say there has been a major shift over the last decade in how the federal agency manages national parks, moving away from its priority mandate of ecological integrity towards a bigger focus on tourism, marketing, increasing visitation and revenue generation.

They say the shift in priorities has resulted in developments being approved behind closed doors, with little regard for how they affect ecological integrity or for public input, which often seems to be ignored.

Anne-Marie Syslak, executive director for CPAWS’ southern Alberta chapter, said they want to see the federal government restore Parks Canada’s culture as a science-based nature conservation organization working in the long-term public interest.

“Legally and by policy, these parks are meant to be protected with ecological integrity as the first priority and we’re not seeing that,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean people can’t go to national parks or enjoy them. It’s great people come to the parks, but we need to make sure we don’t love our national parks to death.”

CPAWS has put forward 17 recommendations to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, including calls to stop the major expansion plan for Lake Louise ski hill and conceptual approval of commercial tent-cabins at Maligne Lake in Jasper.

The group says the proposed Jasper development contravenes the park management plan because no new commercial development is allowed outside the townsite, while some plans for the Lake Louse ski hill would mean removing some land from declared wilderness.

CPAWS also wants a $66 million paved bike path proposal between Jasper and the Columbia Icefields halted amid fears it will run through prime grizzly bear and caribou habitat. It’s recommended the money be redirected to conservation priorities such as endangered caribou and ecological monitoring.

Syslak also points to other developments in recent years, including Brewster Travel Canada’s Skywalk over Sunwapta Valley on lands that used to be publicly accessible, even though there was huge public opposition.

Summer use was also approved at Mount Norquay ski hill, including construction of via ferrata. The ski hill originally gave up summer use in exchange for development of winter terrain.

“These incremental developments in Banff and Jasper pose a serious threat to sensitive wildlife and wilderness,” Syslak said.

Parks Canada declined an interview request, but sent an emailed statement instead.

Meaghan Bradley, a communications officer in Parks’ national office, wrote federal Minister Catherine McKenna will host a minister’s round table this fall.

“This will be an opportunity to engage with the minister and Parks Canada officials on a variety of topics, including many of the areas raised in the CPAWS report, and discuss issues that matter to Canadians,” she wrote.

Bradley stated Parks Canada is mandated to maintain or restore ecological integrity, and provide Canadians with opportunities to discover and enjoy them.

“Parks Canada is a recognized world leader in conservation and has been successfully balancing this integrated mandate,” she wrote, adding strict development limits are in place to protect national parks.

“Parks Canada remains committed to a rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with these limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained.”

The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) said CPAWS is exaggerating over-development of Banff and Jasper, which the group says is harmful to tourism.

Casey Peirce, the group’s executive director, said only five per cent of Banff National Park is developed and Jasper contains development within three per cent of the park – and these numbers include townsites.

“Canada is predominantly vast wilderness, and we are not by any means abusing or limiting the wildlife that live within due to tourism,” she said.

Peirce said tourism in Alberta is an $8 billion industry – that’s more than agriculture and forestry combined – and it’s important to remember those industries contribute to the GDP in these economically challenging times.

“That’s not to say that we should be or are offering up tourism-based development at the expense of our environment,” she said. “That is by no means the current situation at all.”

Peirce said activities such as skiing and biking are very big draws for the mountain parks, and those activities and developments, like the bike trail from Jasper to the Columbia Icefields, should be welcomed.

“Thankfully, we have federally mandated laws that ensure the responsible development of these and other offerings, and that is where the Parks Canada is obligated to and does intervene,” she said.

Visitation to Banff National Park is up about 10 per cent over previous years to approximately 3.8 million visitors, and Peirce said the low dollar and depressed economy means more Canadians and Americans are choosing Canada to holiday.

She said with the federal government’s commitment to promote free access to national parks in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation, Banff and Jasper can expect increases in visitor numbers next year.

“It would be irresponsible to not plan for future increases in numbers of visitors. We have an obligation to ensure that their experiences are positive,” Peirce said.

“This means investing into the assets we have in place. Parks Canada is one of many key stakeholders leading the striving toward accomplishing this.”

Peirce said the businesses and people who live in the mountain parks want more than anything to preserve wilderness spaces, adding their livelihood depends on it.

“Canada is a world leader in protection of bears, wolves, ungulates, birds and many other species. Our track record is impressive when it comes to conservation,” she said.

“Certainly there is no intent to overuse or over-develop these beautiful regions, only to responsibly promote them in order to engage Canadians and visitors in a unique, experiential and accessible way.”

CPAWS is also asking Minister McKenna to establish an independent expert review panel to examine what they see as a growing disconnect between Parks Canada’s programs and the legislative direction that ecological integrity is the first priority in all management decisions.

Another recommendation involves appointing a national parks advisory committee to the minister to provide on-going advice on managing the parks, including on maintaining or restoring ecological integrity, and ensuring effective public involvement in decision-making.

Syslak said CPAWS is not the only group sounding the alarm over Parks Canada’s management of parks, noting several former senior Parks Canada managers spoken out against developments in Lake Louise and Jasper.

“We want to know there’s going to be grizzly bears and caribou, that wilderness and wildlife values are going to be kept in good repair,” Syslak said. “If we can’t do that for the most protected areas in Canada, that’s a problem.”

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