Spreading the word on Parks Day

Updated July 21, 2014

July 19th was Parks Day and the JEA had a booth on the lawn in front of Jasper’s Information Building.  Five of us manned it and in spite of one brief shower of rain in the middle of the day and a mini-monsoon as we were packing up at the end it was a heartening success.

JEA, CPAWS, Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake, Maligne Tours, caribou, grizzlies

JEA booth featuring the woodland caribou of Maligne Lake

It was a great experience to meet people from all over the world and be able to chat with them about Jasper National Park – its beauty, its endangered species and its problems. Nearly all of them had either been to Maligne Lake or were going in the next day or so. Their main reaction to the news that a high-end resort was being proposed for this world-famous lake was puzzled disbelief ­– “but isn’t this is a national park?”; “may I sign something?”;  “I’m going to write a letter to your Superintendent”;  “doesn’t Canada have laws against this kind of development?”

There were also tour bus drivers who visited the booth and asked for our grizzly bear “Move over nature, business wants more room” postcards to hand out to their passengers.

But the great percentage of visitors were fellow Canadians who had heard of the proposed controversial project through the media and were not shy about voicing strong opinions against it. By the end of the day we had filled 31 pages of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness “Stand Up For Jasper” petition against it.

JEA, CPAWS, Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake, Maligne Tours, caribou, grizzlies

A good opportunity for discussion

What else can we do but fight these unwanted developments in Canada’s last bastions of wilderness that are becoming ever more precious to her people as business interests target them for their own gain? Maybe those interests will finally realize that the more we destroy this wilderness the more likely people are to go somewhere else.

Will Parks Canada listen this time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day of Protest in the Maligne Valley

Updated June 30, 2014

Under stormy clouds and a cool breeze some Maligne Valley anti-development protesters gathered to voice their opposition to any further tourism expansion at the iconic Maligne Lake.

We set up protest stations along the Maligne Road with posters, picket-signs and our ‘Save Our National Parks’ banner. Some of the posters became abstract art as the rain poured down but the thumbs-up signs, hooting horns and waving hands from the stream of passing cars certainly uplifted any soggy spirits.

After a lunch break at Medicine Lake some of us continued on to Maligne Lake to get the Canadian Parks and Wilderness petitions signed by visitors. One of the main questions  from various nationalities was “Don’t you have laws here in Canada against building things like this proposed development in a national park”.  Well, yes we do but …

 

Maligne Lake Jasper Environmental Association, Development protest

Unloading protest signs

 

Maligne Lake, Jasper Environmental Association. protest against development

Getting the message across

 

Maligne Development Protest

Updated June 24, 2014

Concerned about the proposed Maligne Lake development? The precedent it will set? The wildlife like the grizzly bears and the endangered caribou it will adversely affect?

Join us to form a line of signs along the Maligne Lake Road.

Date: Sunday June 29th

Meeting Place: Maligne Canyon Parking Lot

Time: 10 a.m.

For more information phone JEA’s Dave 780-931-3151

(Bring a sandwich and water and maybe something to sit on)

 

Southern Woodland Caribou, Maligne herd, Maligne Valley, Jasper National Park

Endangered Species: Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou

Brewster’s New Attraction

Updated May 12, 2014

 

“Flat.Out.Awesome.”?

Brewster Travel Canada sees their Glacier Skywalk as a ‘visceral edge-of-the-wilderness experience strengthening visitors’ connection to the national parks,’ but the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sees it as a ‘high threat’ to the ecological integrity of this World Heritage Site.

Opposition to it was certainly ‘visceral’: 190,000 people signed an on-line petition against it in a six-week period in 2012 and Parks Canada admitted it received over 2000 letters opposing it ­– but then approved it anyway.

It is now open for business beside the Icefields Parkway and this member of the JEA decided to take a look at this ‘awe-inspiring experience featuring the only unobstructed, completely accessible glacier view in the world!’

Let’s get this straight: the only glaciers visible from the skywalk are two small ones remaining on the sides of Mounts Athabasca and Andromeda, seven km further south. The major Athabasca Glacier can only be seen from the Icefields Centre, not from the skywalk.

So, harbouring a certain amount of skepticism I drove down the spectacular Icefields Parkway. About 90 km south of Jasper at the top of the steep Tangle Falls hill, where visitors heading south once caught their first sight of Mounts Athabasca and Andromeda, and where motorhomes with overheating engines could pull off onto a large parking lot, a futuristic-looking bus shelter now blocks the view and a chain-link fence runs the length of the ridge. No stopping allowed.

Brewster Skywalk location, Jasper National Park, mountain goats, old parking lot

2011 parking lot with mountain goat

Brewster Skywalk location, Jasper National Park, bus shelter

Brewster Skywalk bus shelter

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, warning sign

So, on down the hill, 6 km to the Icefields Centre and a long climb up the stairs to purchase a ticket. The shuttle bus with 55 passengers took 10 minutes to grind back up the same hill I had just driven down. At the left turn into the drop-off area the bus waited for oncoming cars climbing the hill to pass. It will be interesting to see how long the wait will be in summer with bumper-to-bumper tourist traffic.

In a cloud of diesel exhaust fumes from two tour buses with idling engines I started along a 400 m concrete walkway.  I was handed an audio self-guided phone system so I could join the other zombie-like figures listening expressionlessly to remote voices from the phone system’s headquarters in Toronto describing fossils, mammals, birds, vegetation and glaciers of Jasper National Park.

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, walkway

The 400 meter walkway with display shelter

At the end of the walkway I found myself having to face the ‘Flat. Out. Awesome’ skywalk. I have a strong dislike of heights so my first step onto this structure hanging 280 m above the slopes of the Sunwapta canyon was cautious. I need not have worried. It was easy to ignore it.

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park,

The Glacier Skywalk

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, Sunwapta Creek

Sunwapta Creek from the skywalk

Halfway round I took in the scenery instead and photographed Mounts Athabasca and Andromeda. I later compared them with images taken from the old, now obliterated, parking lot. They were virtually identical – only this time they cost $26.20.

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, 2011 view

View of Mounts Athabasca and Andromeda in 2011 from the old parking lot

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, 2014 view

View of Mounts Athabasca and Andromeda from the skywalk 2014

I searched the slopes for mountain goats but they were not there.  Brewster describes the site as a place ‘where it’s so hard to survive that adaptation never stops.’ Maybe the goats will have to adapt to this unfathomable addition to what was once part of their important habitat by going somewhere else.

All of the free-standing exhibits on this site are constructed of a kind of weathering steel that eliminates the need for painting but it still has the same unattractive, mottled effect of rusty metal. The life-size incarnations of Jasper’s mammals are almost grotesquely comical. How is this pile of what looks suspiciously like scrap metal meant to “strengthen visitors’ connection to the national parks”?

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, rusty walls

The harsh reality of metal walls

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, black bear display

Black bear display

Brewster skywalk, Jasper National Park, metal mountain goat

Mountain goat display

One can only hope that in future those in charge of the stewardship of our national parks and World Heritage Sites will examine more carefully the spin-doctored flowery language of business interests that just want to use these irreplaceable protected places as cash cows for their shareholders.

This Glacier Skywalk is purely a thrill-based attraction and is so far removed from anything natural that it is a relief to look up over the discoloured metal walls at the glorious snow-covered peaks and know they will still be there when this $21m monument to the hubris of a corporation has finally collapsed into Sunwapta Creek.

 

 

One Step Closer to Extinction?

Updated May 6, 2014

woodland caribou, Maligne herd, Jasper National Park, endangered species, COSEWIC

A woodland caribou of the Southern Mountain population

Jasper’s Woodland Caribou now listed ‘Endangered’ by COSEWIC

Jasper National Park’s Woodland Caribou are part of the Southern Mountain population that has just been uplisted from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’ species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The tiny Maligne herd of just five animals is part of this population.

However, this new designation by COSEWIC still has to be passed by the Minister of Environment.

The following gives the process as to what happens next under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)

The Listing Process

First Stage: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assesses the species and assigns it to a status category.

These assessments are based on status reports that consider biological criteria. Social and economic factors are not considered at this stage.

The assessments are then forwarded to the federal Minister of Environment and posted on the public registry

They are reviewed by COSEWIC every 10 years, or more frequently when the status is believed to have changed.

Second Stage: The federal Cabinet determines the species’ legal status.

  • The Minister of Environment must post a statement on the SARA Public Registry within 90 days, describing how he or she intends to respond to COSEWIC’s assessment.
  • Within nine months, the federal Cabinet must change the legal (SARA) list to reflect COSEWIC’s assessment, decide not to add the species to the list, or refer the matter back to COSEWIC for further consideration.
  • If the species is not listed in accordance with COSEWIC’s assessment, reasons must be posted on the Public Registry.
  • Failure to meet the deadline results in the legal list being amended to reflect COSEWIC’s assessment

http://www.speciesatrisk.bc.ca/sar/listing-process

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Monica Andreeff of AMPPE and Dr. Stephen Woodley of the IUCN

Updated April 22, 2014

A CTV interview with Monica Andreeff , Executive Director of the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) and Dr. Stephen Woodley, former Chief Ecosystem Scientist with Parks Canada and presently with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The subject is the proposal by a private tour company to build a high-end hotel and tent cabins at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park – a World Heritage Site

http://www.albertaprimetime.com/Stories.aspx?pd=6398

Former Parks Canada senior staff oppose Maligne Hotel

Updated April 9, 2014

Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, hotel proposed,

The Hall of the Gods, Maligne Lake

 

Open letter to Canada’s Minister of the Environment

April 9, 2014

Honourable Leona Aglukkaq

Minister of the Environment

House of Commons Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

By email: Minister@ec.gc.ca

Re: Maligne Tours proposal for overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park

Dear Minister:

As former senior national park staff, we are writing to strongly urge you to take a stand now that will safeguard Canada’s national parks for years to come. Please reject the proposal by Maligne Tours for a hotel resort at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, part of the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.

Approving overnight accommodation at the Maligne Lake would contravene a Parks Canada policy designed specifically to limit development in the mountain national parks, and could open the floodgates to more commercial development, putting the ecological integrity of the mountain parks and quality of park visitor experiences at risk.

It is our view that the Canadian people, Jasper and other national park ecosystems and Parks Canada have nothing to gain and plenty to lose if this development is approved.

Currently only day use is allowed at Maligne Lake. Maligne Tours’ proposed resort contravenes Parks Canada’s 2007 policy that prohibits any new commercial accommodations outside park town sites and places clear negotiated limits on all existing “outlying commercial accommodations”. This policy was developed after significant study by an expert panel and considerable public dialogue. It is a principled response to a widely-held view among a large majority of Canadians – as shown repeatedly in public opinion polling and management plan consultations – that nature protection and public enjoyment need to be protected against commercial development in our national parks. In our considered view, making an exception to this policy would undermine the entire policy foundation for controlling commercial development in our national parks. As such, it would be a betrayal of the public trust and a repudiation of what Canadians have consistently shown they expect of those entrusted with the care of their national treasures.

There is no doubt that other businesses and corporations would use the approval of this proposal as a precedent to try and secure new developments and expansions elsewhere, and that Parks Canada would be compromised in its ability to argue that these proposed developments contravene policy. The Maligne Tours’ proposal is a very real “thin edge of the wedge” that could jeopardize the natural values of our national parks that Canadians have entrusted the federal government to protect on their behalf.

Further, the Maligne resort proposal is inconsistent with your legislative requirement under the Canada National Parks Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act to prioritize ecological integrity in park management decisions, as well as your responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act. The Maligne Valley is home to a Threatened Southern Mountain caribou herd that has declined precipitously in the past 15 years from more than 60 to just 5 animals. This endangered herd requires less disturbance, not more, if there is to be any chance for its survival and recovery.

Were it to proceed, the proposed Maligne Lake hotel development would extend the time of day that visitors and hotel staff use the area and its access road from daytime to 24 hour use. More staff and accommodation would be needed at the lake to service the hotel, leading to more wildlife disturbance. Losing just one caribou on the road because of increased traffic at dawn or dusk, or during the night, could be the final “nail in the coffin” for this herd. The northern end of Maligne Lake is also important habitat for grizzly bears and harlequin ducks, both sensitive species which could be harmed by the expanded activity that would result from overnight accommodation at the lake.

At a broader scale, the incremental commercial development that would result from allowing this precedent-setting contravention of park policy would threaten the ecological integrity of all of our Rocky Mountain national parks by enabling more development in sensitive ecosystems critical for the survival and movement of wildlife.

Any development proposal that could add risk to the well-being of vulnerable species in national parks is inconsistent with the requirement to maintain or restore ecological integrity as a first priority in park management decisions.

The Maligne resort proposal is being considered by Parks Canada on claims that it could improve visitor experience. A survey of Maligne Lake visitors showed 99% were satisfied with their visit, which raises the question whether the proposed development would in fact address the 1% that were not fully satisfied, and if so, if it is worth the risks noted above. Fundamentally, Parks Canada surveys show that Canadians are attracted to national parks for their wildlife and pristine natural beauty and not for built developments, regardless of whether they are tasteful, green or rustic.

In our view, the resort development at Maligne Lake and the anticipated subsequent incremental development would corrupt the natural beauty of Maligne Lake and of our parks. The question is whether you want to be known as the Minister who stood up for, and protected our national parks for Canadians, now and in the future?

Jasper is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site which Parks Canada is entrusted to protect on behalf of Canadians and the global community. As you know, World Heritage is a very special designation given by the United Nations to places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and, as such, are to be protected by the responsible State Party for the global community to appreciate and enjoy, now and in the future. We have a global responsibility to ensure Jasper’s natural values are not compromised.

As the local Jasper Fitzhugh newspaper noted in a recent editorial:

Policies exist for a reason. They are there to shape what is and is not acceptable. They are there to guide governments through tough decisions. And they are there to ensure fairness and due process… 

…Parks’ policies are in place to limit the growth of our town and park to ensure the protection of our wild spaces and wildlife. If the agency is planning to hold true to its mandate of protection and maintenance of ecological integrity, exceptions to longstanding policies on limited development are not an option. 

We agree. National Parks are ultimately about natural heritage and future generations. We strongly urge you to stand up for the long term public interest and legacy by telling Maligne Tours that their operation is, and will always be, a day-use facility that serves the visiting public, not a private resort that excludes the public, contributes to the final loss of the Maligne caribou herd and fills a peaceful place with disturbance, noise and memory of broken promises.

We would be pleased to discuss this important matter with you, and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Nikita Lopoukhine Former Director General, National Parks, Parks Canada Former Chair, World Commission on Protected Areas, IUCN

Stephen Woodley, PhD Former Chief Ecosystem Scientist, Parks Canada

Kevin Van Tighem Former Superintendent, Banff National Park, Parks Canada

Saving the National Parks from Politicians

Updated March 8, 2014

 

Prospectus for a new National Parks Commission  – by Ben Gadd

Summary

In my 45 years of enjoying the national parks of the Rockies, and doing what I can to protect them, I have learned three things.

1. The greatest danger to the parks lies within them. I’m speaking of the commercial operators there.

Of which I have been one. But not like some. I have always counted the park first and my very small business second.

Alas, some of the larger operators—Brewster, the Fairmont hotel chain, Maligne Tours and the ski areas among them—have for many years been putting profits ahead of the health of the national parks in which they are privileged to do business.

These corporations have demanded and received concessions from Parks Canada that are outrageous. Examples: a new convention centre at Lake Louise, despite a blue-ribbon Parks Canada panel that recommended against it; a tawdry “skywalk” along the Icefields Parkway; ever more ski runs and on-the-hill facilities, plus new summer activities at the ski areas that contravene established park values.

2. Clearly, corporate money can buy enough influence in Ottawa to get whatever it wants. This is a serious weakness of our democracy, and it is especially hard on national parks, because the entire national-park system reports to one person, who is a minister in the government of the day. A politician.

3. Therefore, we Canadians have to wrest control of our national parks away from politicians. Instead, the parks system should be run by an independent commission.

Ever hear this story?

In 2002 the superintendent of Jasper National Park did a brave thing. He acted forthrightly to protect the caribou in his national park.

Why was this a brave thing to do? Read the rest of this entry »