From the Rocky Mountain Outlook July 2, 2015
Jasper National Park’s resource conservation manager has been fired, raising questions among conservationists and scientists about why and whether it is part of a larger pattern of dismantling the scientific capacity at the federal agency.
Multiple sources have confirmed John Wilmshurst was given his walking papers on June 11. He was second in command in Jasper, behind superintendent Greg Fenton, where he has been resource conservation manager since October 2012.
Wilmshurst declined to comment and has hired a lawyer.
The reasons for the sudden departure of Wilmshurst, who is a staunch defender of science and passionate about wildlife conservation and habitat protection according to colleagues, remain a mystery.
Parks Canada is not commenting.“This is a human resources matter and Parks Canada does not comment on issues of this nature,” said Parks Canada spokesperson Kavitha Palanisamy.
Stephen Woodley, who retired as Parks Canada’s chief scientist three years ago after a 34-year career with the federal agency, said Wilmshurst is an excellent scientist.
“I worked with him for many years and he’s an outstanding scientist and this is a huge loss to Parks Canada,” said Woodley, who now works with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“I’m a bit astonished. He gave fearless advice and loyal implementation, which is the hallmarks of a good civil servant,” he added.
“He was very objective. All good scientists are highly skeptical of information that comes before them and he was willing to ask the tough questions.”
As resource conservation manager, Wilmshurst led a team of 35 people working in wildlife biology, ecological research and monitoring, aquatic ecology, fire and vegetation management, public safety, search and rescue and emergency dispatch.
Wilmshurst was Parks Canada’s project manager for the protection and recovery of endangered woodland caribou populations from January 2011 to October 2012.
Jasper’s southern mountain caribou population totals approximately 150, and all herds are struggling. He led meetings in Edmonton and Jasper when delayed recreational access to caribou winter habitat in Jasper was announced.
In addition, Wilmshurst has also been involved with work surrounding ongoing protection of harlequin ducks on the Maligne River. The mid-Maligne river has been closed by Parks Canada to commercial rafting since 1999.
Wilmshurst was also the ecosystem science coordinator in Jasper during the development of Brewster’s Skywalk and he and his scientific staff participated in environmental assessments and research and monitoring associated with the project proposal.
Around the same time, he was also co-supervising a goat study from the University of Laval on goats at Marmot Basin ski area with renowned goat expert Steeve Cote, to try to understand the potential effects of ski area development on goat populations.
Conservation groups, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Jasper Environmental Association and Bow Valley Naturalists, have long expressed concern that the science capacity of Parks Canada is being dismantled.
“The federal government hand in hand with powerful business interests has brutally crippled a once proud department,” said Jill Seaton, chair of Jasper Environmental Association in an emailed statement.
In the past several years, scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada and Environment Canada have either been dismissed or left the government service, and programs and research facilities have lost their funding.
“I speak to many colleagues inside the organization and there is a significant chill about providing strong advice on conservation,” Woodley said.
Wilmshurst was given Parks Canada’s CEO Award of Excellence in 2009, as a member of a team who worked on principles and guidelines for ecological protection in Canada’s protected natural areas.
He was also given Public Service Award in 2012 in recognition for his scientific contribution as a member who conceived and implement a restoration and monitoring program for Grasslands National Park.
Rocky Mountain Outlook