Biologists’ letter regarding Maligne hotel proposal

Updated January 7, 2014

woodland Caribou, Maligne herd, Jasper National Park, Maligne Road, licking salt

Caribou of the Maligne herd on the Maligne Road

A letter from three former Canadian Wildlife Service biologists regarding the Maligne hotel proposal outlines the potential danger to the small struggling Maligne caribou herd.

Facilities expansion at Maligne Lake related to caribou preservation

The number of caribou in southern Jasper National Park is estimated at only 55 individuals. In 1988 the estimate was 175 to 200 caribou. Located at the southern edge of their distribution in Alberta and Canada, these caribou are in danger of disappearing from their mountain habitat. A marginal habitat combined with sometimes unfavourable snow conditions, climate change, abundant predators, and human developments critically endangers the local population of caribou.

The Maligne subherd is currently estimated at only 5 individuals, down from about 60 individuals in 1998. They may not persist but recovery is not out of the question and their habitat within historical range should not be written off. Caribou from other areas in the park could move into the Maligne Lake watershed.

A primary concern with the proposed expansion is increased traffic on Maligne Lake road. This is a major expansion of the current chalet that would greatly increase traffic on the road during construction, servicing, and maintenance. The concern is potential disturbance of caribou spending parts of winters in the vicinity of the road, and potential caribou mortality from vehicles and wolves that travel on the road in winter. Wolves are known to travel on the road from near Jasper to Maligne Lake.

The Maligne Lake road should be closed in winter to give the remaining caribou a greater chance of survival. An increase in traffic in daylight and darkness means more grading of snow in winter and probable use of salt that attracts caribou to the road. In winters 1988/89 and 1989/90, caribou were seen many times consuming salt on the road.

A second concern relates to increased use by people in the vicinity of the present chalet at Maligne Lake. In the late 1980s and early 1990s caribou used habitat all around Maligne Lake. There was extensive use of habitat adjacent to the Bald Hills trail to the west of the chalet. Increased daily activity of an additional 100 to 200 people around the proposed development may cause caribou to leave or avoid the area. Expansion will result in more power generation, much more water and waste servicing, and more roads, trails, parking, and recreational activities. Roads, snowmobile tracks and ski trails facilitate wolf travel and increased predation of caribou.

Collectively, we have worked as research scientists in Jasper National Park for many years, spanning the 1950’s to the 1990s. We strongly object to the development of a new hotel at Maligne Lake for a host of reasons, including potential additional threats to the caribou. In our opinion, the development is inconsistent with policy of Parks Canada and its’ Charter. More specifically, it is contrary to a commitment “To protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole.” It is also contrary to the 2010 management plan for the park. Creation of jobs and stimulation of the economy is contrary to the mandate of Parks Canada. The hotel project should not be approved.
Donald Thomas PhD, 46 Pineview Drive, St. Albert, AB T8N 4S8 caribou@shaw.ca
George Scotter PhD, 308, 1963 Durnin Road, Kelowna, BC V1X 7Y4
Donald Flook PhD, 129, 609 Trusswell Road, Kelowna, BC V1W 321
06 Jan 2014

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