A letter from Peter McClure with lots of information and references
1 November 2013
Maligne Valley Situation Analysis
I am in receipt of the copy of the Situation Analysis just released, and while I am still concerned about the lack of time available for a thorough study of the material prior to the meeting on the 6th of November, I have prepared a summary of some obvious concerns. A quick reading of the document raises a number of issues that should be addressed, and I have broken them down into a few categories.
First is the question of whether a new hotel development will enhance the visitor experience. Keep in mind that current facilities already within the Maligne Lake Day Use area include three large parking lots with washrooms, an old boathouse, a large restaurant and gift shop a docking facility for tour boats, a separate boat-launching area (with another parking lot), several picnic sites, and access to a number of trails.
The Situation Analysis says
P. 10: “Visitors to the Maligne Valley are generally very satisfied with their experience. Almost all visitors would recommend the valley to others and 99% agreed that the visit had met or exceeded their expectations. When visitors were asked to rate their satisfaction with specific activities, they expressed high satisfaction with all activities …”
That paragraph alone suggests that adding anything more is neither wanted by the public, nor would it add to what they already get when they come to Maligne Lake.
We know very well from Parks Canada surveys that visitors to Jasper National Park are not coming here for commercial ‘attractions’, but are rather seeking a ‘wilderness’ experience, the opportunity to see wildlife and the Canadian Rockies in their natural state. Notably, many tourists, whether from Canada or abroad, prefer Jasper over Banff simply because of the lack of obvious commercial exploitation. While other countries have given way to the demand by business for higher profits, at the price of losing the very wilderness they’ve been selling, Jasper has so far mostly managed to avoid that trap.
One could make a case that specific enhancements could be made to improve the visitor experience, such as the posting of interpretative guides at locations like the Mary Schaffer trail, but at some point physical structures become so intrusive as to interfere with the scenery. Few people go to Lake Louise specifically to see the hotel, yet by its very size it takes attention away from the beauty of the lake. On the other hand, Curly Phillips’ boathouse at Maligne Lake is relatively small, and has an historic interest to some visitors. It is also ‘lightly-used’ in comparison to the tour boat slips, serving only to rent a few canoes and rowboats to occasional tourists, but let us not be misled into thinking that its existence is any justification for building a larger one!
One justification for the construction of a hotel at Maligne Lake is that at one point it used to be possible to camp up there, and that at another, a lodge was built for guests. One must remember that in both cases, access to the Maligne Valley was so limited by the difficulty of access that few visitors made the trip. In the early to mid-20th century, guests had to come by horseback, boat and finally by a shuttle car to reach the lodge. That scenario is very different from today, when a couple of thousand people might drive up to the lake every summer day. It cannot be logically argued that the impact of perhaps a dozen temporary visitors is in any way similar to that of the present-day numbers, or that the infrastructure required to have them stay overnight will be any less destructive.
One can only conclude that the concept of building a hotel to ‘enhance visitor experience’ is actually counter-productive, that it would detract from what visitors truly want as evidenced by Parks Canada surveys. Obviously, park visitors need a place to stay, but with the current, modern road and the easy availability of transportation, the many hotels in and around the Jasper townsite are more than sufficient. There is no demonstrable need for another, other than to generate extra profits for the owner.
The impact of any development on wildlife has always been a primary concern of Parks Canada, as reflected in its legislated mandate, and here I would refer to quotes from the initial documentation provided. The following points extracted from the Situation Analysis have direct relevance to that issue:
P. 28: “Within the last 20 years it was not uncommon to observe caribou in the late winter/spring along the Maligne Lake Road from Watchtower to the Medicine Lake delta.”
P. 33: “Most of the Maligne Valley has been identified as important caribou habitat.”
P. 35: “Road plowing also provides wolves with improved access to caribou habitat. Telemetry data show that wolves tend to travel on or parallel to the road and river between Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake, however less data are available for the area south of Medicine Lake. Parks Canada staff have observed that in winter wolves use both the river and road to travel in the valley bottom between Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake, but that beyond Medicine Lake, they tend to travel on the road, since the river is open all winter.”
P. 35: “Several different activities have the potential to disturb caribou, however the main concern in this threat category, given its potential to directly reduce caribou populations, is road mortality. In the last 20 years, caribou have been observed on the Maligne Lake Road in all months except for July and August. One caribou was killed on the road in February 1995. Signs installed in 2005 remind motorists to watch for caribou on the road and observe the 60 km/h speed limit. Losing even one caribou out of the Maligne herd could be critical to their long-term persistence.”
P. 36: “With six remaining individuals, the Maligne herd is at serious risk of extirpation. The consequences of the loss of just one or two individuals out of this herd would be very great.”
While Parks Canada has taken steps recently to protect other herds in Jasper National Park, little has been done to help the Maligne Valley caribou herd. That the road to Maligne Lake is now open year-round has obviously placed the herd at greater risk, especially in winter, and any increase in traffic makes the problem much worse.
P. 37: “Female grizzly bears with cubs have been observed repeatedly at Opal Hills and adjacent to the Maligne Lake Day Use Area by Parks Canada employees.”
P. 37: “[Grizzly Bear] population growth is slow and human-caused mortalities can tip the balance towards population decline.”
P. 38: “The areas where grizzly bears are most likely to occur are generally habitats with edges (i.e. close to rivers, lakes and roads) …”
P. 40: “A wider pinch point exists around the Maligne Lake Day Use Area. Although the topography lends itself more readily to wildlife movement, high levels of human activity within the pinch point (on trails and at the day use area), likely influence the ability of wildlife to move through the area.”
P. 41: “Although the relationship between bears and human activity is complex, many studies have demonstrated that bears respond negatively to human activity, either avoiding human activity entirely or altering their daily habits.”
As we are aware, grizzly cubs are rare in the Parks, and the female that lives in the Opal Hills has reliably produced new offspring on a regular basis for many years. Interaction between the bears in the Maligne valley and the human population is already difficult, and any increase in activity places more pressure on the bears. On a recent visit to Maligne Lake on a holiday weekend, we heard a bear being hazed away from the Bald Hills Trail – while the grizzlies seem to have partially adjusted to temporary incursions by hikers, the impact of an increase in permanent residents and permanent structures will cut off access to the lake for a significant segment of the shoreline.
P. 52: “The Maligne Lake outlet is an ESS because of its importance to Harlequin Ducks, particularly during the pre-nesting period.”
It has been well-established that the Maligne River provides critical habitat for the endangered Harlequin duck, and that was considered in itself to be sufficient reason to end white-water rafting on the river. While the construction of a hotel at Maligne Lake will hopefully have less direct impact on the Harlequin duck population, that concern adds to the picture of the entire Maligne Valley as being a haven for wildlife.
P. 65: “Although our understanding of wildlife movement in the valley is not perfect, we can maintain or improve the ability of wildlife to move between key habitats by: ensuring that new facilities are not located in pinch points, removing non-essential facilities from pinch points and carefully managing human activity in pinch points.” (The Maligne Lake Day Use Area is identified as a pinch point.)
The Maligne Valley Situation Analysis paints a very clear picture of an ecology already under pressure, a fragile and vulnerable environment already stretched to its limits. In fact, pursuant to the paragraph above, there exists a very good case for the reduction of the numbers of people currently using the valley, and the removal of “non-essential facilities” from sites such as the Maligne Lake Day Use Area.
We can recognize the political issues at play here, and the current pressure to milk more money from the National Parks, but at the end of the day we must also recognize that we are risk of destroying the very attractions we are selling. Rather then trying to decide whether to erect more buildings in sensitive areas, perhaps we should instead be looking at trying to eliminate some that have outlived their usefulness.
Spruce Grove, Alberta
(No time to write a long one? Then just write a quick note on why we don’t need a hotel in the Maligne Valley and send it to Superintendent Greg Fenton <email@example.com> before November 22, 2013)