Drawing the line at Maligne Lake

Updated August 31, 2014

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, Maligne Tours, Jasper Environmental Association, CPAWS

Spirit Island at Maligne Lake

Conservation groups file legal challenge over Jasper National Park development proposal

Parks Canada’s approval of a controversial concept proposal to build overnight commercial accommodations at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park must be struck down because it violates the park’s management plan, conservation groups said today.

Ecojustice lawyers, representing the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Jasper Environmental Association (JEA) have filed a Federal Court case in an effort to quash the approval and protect Canada’s national parks from renewed commercial development pressures.

“This concept proposal requires the release of new lands for overnight commercial accommodations, in this case, up to 15 tent cabins. This directly contravenes Jasper National Park’s management plan,” said Fraser Thomson, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “This approval is, in our clients’ view, unlawful and sends a troubling signal about Parks Canada’s commitment to the ecological protection provisions within its own management plan.”

Although the 2010 Management Plan for Jasper National Park of Canada explicitly prohibits new land being released for overnight commercial accommodations outside of the Jasper town site, Parks Canada says it intends to change the plan to allow the commercial tent cabin proposal to go ahead at Maligne Lake.

According to Parks Canada’s own policies, management plans are “commitments to the public from the Minister [of Environment].” They are prepared in consultation with the public and give Canadians a say in how national parks are governed, acting as the mechanism by which ecological integrity is considered during decision-making.

“The policies prohibiting new commercial accommodations outside park town sites were put in place specifically to limit commercial development and protect our parks’ ecological integrity,” said Alison Ronson, executive director of CPAWS’ Northern Alberta chapter.

“It sets a troubling precedent if Parks Canada can change the rules based solely on commercial pressures. It opens the floodgates to more development throughout our Rocky Mountains national parks, and does not reflect the public interest in protecting our parks for future generations.”

The concept proposal would also put park wildlife, in particular the endangered Maligne caribou herd and local grizzly bear populations, at greater risk.

“Overnight accommodations at Maligne Lake would bring increased foot and vehicle traffic to the area at night and in the early mornings when wildlife is most active,” said Jill Seaton, chair of the JEA. “This presents both ecological and safety concerns because Maligne Lake is within the habitat of an endangered caribou herd and is part of an important grizzly bear corridor.”

The Maligne caribou herd has dwindled to just four individuals — one female and three males. Both the caribou and grizzly bear are sensitive to human use and development within their habitat, and rely on undisturbed tracts of land to survive and recover.


For more information, please contact
Fraser Thomson, staff lawyer | Ecojustice

Alison Ronson, executive director | CPAWS Northern Alberta
780.424.5128 ext. 309

Jill Seaton, chair | Jasper Environmental Association

Precedent-setting decision for Maligne Lake

Updated August 4, 2014

Maligne Tours, Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, Jasper Environmental Association

Maligne Tours Day Lodge

Editorial – The Fitzhugh

July 30, 2014

There was a short moment on Friday morning where it appeared the public had succeeded in stopping the development of overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake.

The news was Parks Canada had denied Maligne Tours Ltd.’s controversial proposal for a 66-suite hotel on the shores of the iconic lake. For a split second—before anyone had time to read the fine print—it looked like a victory—a win for public consultation and engagement.

It seemed the loud, adamant voices of environmentalists and park lovers had finally carried over the mountain tops, across the Prairies and all the way to Ottawa—and for a change the Conservative government seemed to listen.

But then came that pesky fine print. Sure, there’s no hotel, but there will still be overnight accommodation in the form of 15 tent cabins.

Now, tent cabins may seem innocuous, but its here where it’s critical to read between the lines.

As was feared with the proposed hotel, in order for the cabins to be built, Parks has to amend its management plan to allow for new outlying commercial accommodations. (Currently the plan prohibits such developments.)

So, although Parks denied the luxury hotel—because it doesn’t fit within the park’s mandate on commercial growth—there is now the potential for future development, not only at Maligne Lake, but in other outlying areas. Heck, give it a few years and there might just be another proposal from Maligne Tours—and its long sought-after hotel might just be built.

If Parks changes its management plan, the precedent will be set, and there will be no turning back.

Without the plan prohibiting new outlying commercial accommodations, Parks has nothing concrete to hold onto or to fall back on when a company comes knocking.

Now, to be fair, the management plan hasn’t been changed yet, and it won’t be changed unless Maligne Tours carries on with its proposal, completing a detailed plan and an environmental assessment and undergoing another round of public consultation.

But, unfortunately, that’s only a small comfort, as the company intends to do just that.

So, despite early appearances, this is far from a win.

It’s hard to predict what the shores of Maligne Lake will look like 20, 10 or even five years from now, but Parks’ decision signifies that, now more than ever before, there’s potential for development and change.

Nicole Veerman

‘Good news’ for Maligne Tours is ‘bad news’ for wildlife

Updated July 26, 2014

Maligne Lake, Jasper Environmental Association, Jasper National Park, MaligneTours hotel proposal

Boathouse at Maligne Lake with Mount Leah and Mount Samson

Article from the Fitzhugh newspaper July 25, 2014

Parks Canada has accepted Maligne Tours Ltd.’s proposal for redevelopment at Maligne Lake, but has said no to the 66-room hotel that was the plan’s flagship development.

On July 25 environmental advocates welcomed the decision to reject the heritage-style accommodation, but many had significant concerns about what was approved, namely the 15 tent cabins the company hopes to build on the hillside below the Maligne Lake Chalet.

“Yes, they’ve turned down the hotel, but we’ve still got these tent cabins, which are quite frankly like a trojan horse,” said Jill Seaton of the Jasper Environmental Association. “I’m afraid [a hotel could] still be there in the future because they’ve got the door open with these tent cabins.”

Although a concern for some, Pat Crowley, the general manager of Maligne Tours Ltd., said that even if the cabins do get built, they will just be one small, “low-key” part of the overall developments and won’t have a major impact on visitation.

Crowley called Parks’ decision “good news” and said the company is looking forward to taking the next steps in the development process in order to implement the 13 proposals that received Parks approval. Included in those approvals is a wildlife-themed maze, earth-caching, storytelling experiences and enhanced boat tours to Spirit Island.

While discussing Parks’ decision, July 25, Supt. Greg Fenton explained that, although the agency couldn’t approve the hotel—on the basis that the potential visitor experience didn’t outweigh the environmental impacts—tent cabins are different.

“[The] potential negative impact of tent cabins is much less,” he said, noting they’re smaller in scale and they aren’t permanent buildings.

Fenton said he believes all of the approved elements of the proposal have the potential to connect Canadians to the park and to enhance visitor experiences, while giving visitors an opportunity to enjoy one of Jasper’s iconic landscapes.

But, despite those possible benefits, the proposal’s opponents aren’t convinced.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), which condemned Maligne Tours’ proposal in its recent State of Canada’s Parks report, has also raised concerns, especially about the possibility of setting a dangerous precedent.

“Essentially, right now, the [park's] management plan prohibits any new land from being released for outlying commercial accommodation, and so they’d have to release land in order for this to happen,” said Danielle Pendlebury, conservation coordinator for the northern Alberta chapter of CPAWS.

“By making an exception, and essentially amending the management plan for this accommodation, Parks Canada is essentially opening the floodgates to pick more proposals for outlying commercial accommodation. That’s our concern, is that it’s setting a precedent that some proposals can go through.”

Pendlebury said CPAWS is also troubled by many of the recreational activities approved in Parks’ decision.

She said many of them “are more appropriate for a theme park than a national park,” and cited a 2010 Parks report that found Canadians are most attracted to national parks because of their pristine nature and wildlife, and less because of their “attractions.”

CPAWS is also worried that developments like the exploratory maze and enhanced boat tours will leave a footprint at the lake, putting its sensitive environment in jeopardy.

The Maligne Valley is home to the park’s smallest caribou herd—tallying only four animals—and is a major corridor for grizzly bears, a threatened species in Alberta. It’s also important harlequin duck habitat. Pendlebury is worried that increased overnight visitation will disrupt these struggling animals.

Crowley said she doesn’t believe the improvements will increase visitation to the lake. Rather, she said, they will provide visitors with a more engaging experience.

“I don’t think [visitation] will change one little bit,” she said. “There are over 200,000 people coming up here every year, and they’re all keen to do something when they get here—or to learn something, or to have their children learn something—so that’s what we’ll be doing.”

And while Maligne Tours is excited at the prospects of further development at the lake, Crowley admitted that without the anticipated revenue from the heritage-style hotel, the company’s proposed experiential activities will have to be somewhat scaled down from what was laid out in the original conceptual proposal.

The heritage-style hotel would have “went a long way to [creating a] sense of place,” but the tent cabins will allow the company to provide most of the cultural and heritage presentations they had originally hoped for.

“We still get to accomplish the same things in terms of visitor engagement—it will just be in a different manner,” she said.

Crowley said Maligne Tours is eager to take the next steps in the process. That will mean utilizing the terms of reference Parks provided them to create a more detailed proposal and conduct an environmental assessment.

Another round of public engagement will follow, to help inform Parks on how to proceed.

In the meantime, Pendlebury said CPAWS will stay vigilant as the process unfolds and will continue to lobby the government to put the brakes on further development at Maligne Lake.

“We’re definitely going to be continuing with our campaign, and continuing with the petition and encouraging people to write letters and their comments to Parks Canada,” she said.

“We don’t see this as a win, we see this as the fact that there is still a huge part of the resort going through.”

Trevor Nichols and Nicole Veerman
reporter@fitzhugh.ca and editor@fitzhugh.ca

Parks Canada rejects Maligne Lake hotel proposal

Updated July 25, 2014

Maligne Lake, Jasper Environmental Association, Jasper National Park, MaligneTours hotel proposal

Maligne Lake with Spirit Island

Parks Canada has turned down the controversial proposal for a hotel at Maligne Lake. However, it has accepted the rest of the 14 elements of Maligne Tours’ concept for further consideration, including tent cabins and additional visitor experience offers.

Maligne Tours’ proposal to construct 15 tent cabins adjacent to their day lodge lease is raising many of the same concerns that applied to the proposed hotel: people in an important wildlife ‘pinch point’ area at night; use of the trails at night and traffic on the narrow 38 km Maligne Road after dark. All of these could pose a threat to the ‘endangered’ woodland caribou herd of just four remaining animals and the sensitive grizzly bear population – a species listed as ‘threatened’ in Alberta.

In addition, to allow the tent cabins Parks Canada would have to amend the Jasper National Park Management Plan that clearly states: “No new land will be released for overnight commercial accommodation outside the community.” This could set a very dangerous precedent for other outlying commercial accommodations to propose their own new developments throughout the national parks. The Jasper National Park Management Plan involved many months of consultations and public input and should not be tampered with to suit the whims of business interests.


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



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