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Home » AMPPE in the News » ‘Balance’ between conservation and tourism is key: AMPPE

July 28, 2016 – The Crag and Canyon. Story by Daniel Katz.

A Rocky Mountain tourism stakeholder association is challenging assertions made in recent weeks by environmental groups that too much development is occurring within national mountain parks to the detriment of nature conservation.

The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment, a member-based non-profit that represents a cross-section of organizations within mountain park communities from Jasper to Waterton Lakes, states that despite claims that Parks Canada’s mandate is transforming towards more of a focus on developing infrastructure within Rocky Mountain parks, in reality robust policy is in place to ensure there is a balance between ecological integrity, sustainable tourism and positive visitor experience.

“There are more pillars involved with what Parks Canada does now. They’re not solely about conservation,” said Casey Peirce, executive director of AMPPE. “Factoring in implementations or projects that do contribute to visitor experience has become very key for their mandate.”

fleurs-flowers.ashxA report released by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society earlier this month called on Parks Canada to halt all development in national parks, prioritize conservation and increase transparency in their decision-making processes.

The report’s release followed an announcement in the 2016 federal budget of a $66-million bike trail project that will link the Icefields Parkway to the Jasper townsite. The project was revealed without any consultation from the public and has been denounced by the federal NDP and several environmental groups.

Peirce said any development undertaken within national parks has to meet rigorous environmental impact studies. She says that ecological integrity is foremost when those projects are moved forward or funding is cleared for a project.

In addition, with visitor numbers to Banff National Park increasing annually for several years and much more anticipated with free park admission in 2017, it’s important to implement initiatives that can accommodate those visitors and ensure their experiences to the region are enjoyable.

“It’s understandable that people are against development in the parks, but at the same time, visitor experience requires that we do plan for future increases and people coming to the parks, and that we can create sites and attractions that allow Canadians and visitors to really interact with the natural environment in Canada [and] with their cultural history,” she said.

Executive director of CPAWS’s southern Alberta chapter Anne-Marie Syslak says that their organzation’s report merely states that national parks should be left “unimpaired” for the benefit of future generations of Canadians.

“This report is not about keeping people out of parks,” she said in an email. “On the contrary, it is about ensuring people can enjoy protected nature in our national parks now and in the future. We don’t want to be the last generation of Canadians to be able to see wildlife like grizzly bears and caribou in Banff and Jasper.”

Grizzly bears in Alberta are listed as Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. There are currently no caribou in Banff National Park, and in Jasper there are thought to be approximately 55 individuals spread among three herds, and less than 100 in the northern A La Peche herd which spends most of its time outside the park boundary. Those numbers are all believed to be in decline.

The number of visitors to Banff National Park from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 is projected to have increased 7.4 per cent from the previous year, with more than 3.8 million people expected to have passed through Banff’s gates, according to numbers revealed at Parks Canada’s Banff National Park Planning Forum last February.

The effects of improper planning for this influx of visitors are already being seen, as over Canada Day weekend record numbers of vehicles jammed streets in Banff, and in Lake Louise many had to be turned away from the iconic landmark due to massive traffic and parking congestion.

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To ensure the national park is prepared for more visitors, transportation management initiatives for both Banff and Lake Louise must be implemented, says Peirce.

“We have a ton of space for visitors to come and explore the parks, but our issue is with congestion and that is going to be something that is going to be very key in the next year, year and a half, when we come into 2017,” said Peirce. “We are going to have to find ways to mitigate vehicular traffic… it’s going to be a concern for visitor experience and for climate change and the environment.”

Parks Canada says in managing national parks, they are 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,” said Christina Tricomi, communications officer for the Banff field unit, in an email. “Parks Canada remains committed to a rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with [development] limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained. Additionally, any development in national parks is managed through consultation with the public and stakeholders, and planning that is informed by science.”

There is a strong desire amongst AMPPE members to protect the natural surroundings as it serves both an economic and environmental benefit for the region, says Peirce.

“People love coming to the mountain parks in Canada. They’re overwhelmed by the awesomeness and the incredible beauty that we have to offer,” she said. “We need to work hard to maintain our world-class reputation.”

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