Letters regarding the dismissal of Dr. John Wilmshurst

Updated July 1, 2015

Connecting observations

Posted by:  Posted date: June 24, 2015 In: ArchiveLetters To The Editor |

Dear Editor,

My heart sank into deep sadness when I learned that Dr. John Wilmshurst had been fired as the Head of Resource Conservation in Jasper National Park.

I feel the pain and tough implications this has for the family as much as it has for this National Park and our community.

John is a highly skilled, smart man with high values and standards for ecological and personal integrity, people skills that allowed him to rebuild a team out of a group of employees that were left shaken and demoralized after the dubious staff cuts of 2012 and he understands the essence and fibre needed to create community fabric.

These elements put together grow resilience—something either Parks Canada or this current government don’t seem to value, because people displaying qualities such as John displayed can’t be manipulated or “bought” easily, so “best” to cut them out; this way the rest of the organization will go back without question to the new agenda of “attracting more money” rather than being prudent about protecting this National Park and our community for those who come after our time.

Who do we have left as genuine mentors for the greater good of wholeness in this National Park?

When will we stand together? What has to happen for us to stand for each other, rather than our own personal agenda? What has to die for us to move from “me” to “we”?

The divide and conquer method currently being applied will kill us all one by one and it will not stop within the organization of Parks Canada, it will affect Jasper and our country in its entirety.

I know most don’t want to hear this.

Can we finally learn from the animals in this Park? It seems to me the elk stand together.

Can we make the connection from wolf predation/caribou to visitor experience—big business/integrity?

Can we make the connection from cougar mother/juvenile cat (and it’s death) to mentor/young inexperienced or silenced staff?

I could come up with more of those. All along our wildlife has been trying to teach us about how we humans are connected to the wildness of life and instead we “manage” in strange ways, and those like John who are awake get “cut out” so not to disrupt the slumber and comfort of others—sad—or we could choose to wake up.

John, our heart is with you and your family. Stand proud and tall, you have every reason for it.

Ursula Winkler
Jasper, Alta.

Fired for what reason?

Posted by:  Posted date: June 17, 2015 In: ArchiveLetters To The Editor | comment : 0

Dear Editor,

Jasper National Park’s Manager of Resource Conservation has been fired for no stated reason but anyone who knows Dr. Wilmshurst is well aware of the great love and deep concern that he has for this park. So we may presume that he was fired because he chose to carry out his job according to his high principles, extensive knowledge and considerable experience to fulfill Parks Canada’s mandate to protect Jasper National Park for future generations.

Whether this demonstrably underhanded order ultimately came from the federal government or senior Parks Canada staff in Ottawa is irrelevant. The faceless individual who took this step is part of a bureaucracy that has become so poisoned with suspicion and intolerance that anyone who does their job according to what they believe is best for a national park is now in danger of facing this kind of draconian measure.

There is honour in Dr. Wilmshurst being fired for following the high standards of protection for Canada’s revered national parks. Nothing but dishonour can be ascribed to those who see fit to getting him out of the way so they can follow the government agenda without question or conscience.

The federal government hand in hand with powerful business interests has brutally crippled a once-proud department. Thousands of staff have either lost their jobs or voluntarily left the now noxious atmosphere of these magnificent areas protected over a century ago by a far-sighted government to become an integral part of Canada’s heritage and psyche.

If we are not to lose these areas altogether to commercialization we need to ensure that highly principled staff like Dr. Wilmshurst are permitted to voice their concerns so Parks Canada may begin to return to its mandate to protect these wild places and their wildlife for future generations of Canadians and visitors from around the world.

Jill Seaton (Chair)
Jasper Environmental Association

There’s good reason to worry

Posted by:  Posted date: June 17, 2015 In: ArchiveLetters To The Editor | comment : 0

Dear Editor,

Another cold, grey pallor has settled down on the town of Jasper, another unsettling and unnerving quiet smothers the June streets. We all feel the icy cold stabs of disbelief, shock and outrage as it whips through the town, with a bite more vicious than a December north wind—the unprecedented dismissal of JNP employee John Wilmshurst has stunned the JNP family and the community of Jasper.

I grew up in JNP and in a Park Warden family; until this date, there has never been such a perplexing and gut wrenching act, as the recent dismissal of John Wilmshurst, a good and honourable man, who for five years was the science coordinator for the Mountain Parks, and recently (in old time Warden lingo), the Chief Park Warden of JNP.

The big question is WHY? But here’s where things get confusing; severely vexing with shades of questionable political grey. Many of us are concerned about the way things are now being conducted, with regards to managing our national parks. How can a man as highly regarded and respected as John be treated in such a disrespectful fashion? What could he have done to warrant this dismissal? Some speculate he was a marked man. Could he have challenged the dogma of a paranoid and protective government?

Many of us are aware that PC staff are ordered “not to talk”, trained PC media personnel spin a coloured yarn with efficient brain washing, interwoven with layers of secrecy that seem to be insidiously attached to managing our national parks.

John Wilmshurst is a decent man that shrink wraps integrity and honesty around his thin frame. During the PC open house in 2013, over 200 winter users of JNP, packed toques and merino wool into the basement of the Crimson Hotel. The heated topic was caribou conservation and why PC was closing a vast majority of JNP to winter users. He stood up, with hundreds of upset eyes boring into him; he explained and defended PC’s position with humour and conviction. I could see the inner frustration build, as John, the scientist tried to explain the complexities concerning the importance of caribou conservation. He passionately said, “I’m not going to give up on a single animal.”

I’ve worked on many trail related matters with John; he was on one side of the table, in a PC uniform, and I on the other side, trying to defend and promote trail use. These sides often clash; it takes effort and perseverance to understand each other, but at the end of the day, we remained friends and shared many trail and street side laughs. I will really miss John.

What were the real reasons behind the dismissal of John Wilmshurst? If he was terminated for political reasons, the words of Shakespeare come to mind, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” and there is good reason to be worried.

Loni Klettl
Jasper, Alta.

Resource Conservation Manager fired in Jasper National Park

Updated June 17, 2015

Firing of senior Jasper Park employee remains a mystery

 

Posted by:   June 17, 2015  

A senior employee with Parks Canada was unexpectedly fired from his job last week for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery.

Multiple sources confirmed John Wilmshurst, the science and resource conservation manager for Jasper National Park, was fired on June 11.

Wilmshurst was second in command after Greg Fenton, the superintendent for Jasper National Park.

His sudden departure sent shockwaves through Parks’ offices and the community.

“We were shocked to hear that John Wilmshurst has been let go by Parks Canada,” said Alison Woodley, national director for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), in an emailed statement. “As a scientist John has made an enormous contribution to protecting Canada’s national parks, through his work in Grasslands National Park, as well as in recent years in Jasper.

“CPAWS and others have expressed serious concern since 2012 that the science capacity of Parks Canada is being dismantled,” she said referring to the budget cuts and mass layoffs that took place three years ago. “This news raises even more concern about the future of science and scientists in our national parks.”

Parks Canada refused to confirm or deny Wilmshurst had been fired.

“With regards to your query about John, this is a human resources matter and Parks Canada does not comment on issues of this nature,” said Kavitha Palanisamy, communications officer for Jasper National Park, in an emailed statement.

Wilmshurst also declined to comment.

News of Wilmshurst’s termination has sent the rumour mill in full motion and led numerous community members to reach out to Yellowhead MP Jim Eglinski, looking for answers.

When reached in Ottawa, Eglinski said he looked into it, but received little information.

“I went to the minister’s office and inquired,” he said, referring to the Minister of Environment, “and I have been told it’s an internal matter between Parks Canada and the employee, Mr. Wilmshurst, and they will not be making a public statement in that regard.”

Eglinski declined to speculate why Parks would fire one of its top conservationists.

“I don’t know if you can point the finger at Parks Canada, it doesn’t matter what corporation, if they decide to downsize the corporation, or terminate a person, or let a person go, that information is between them and that person.

“I don’t think it’s of public interest, even though the public would want to know why those people are going, but there shouldn’t be a legal obligation for either party to tell the public about it.”

Paul Clarke
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

Marmot to expand snowmaking, long range plan approved

Updated June 14, 2015

Notes from JEA:

This Fitzhugh article concerns the first part of Marmot Basin’s long range plan. The second part will be released sometime in the next two years and that will include Marmot’s expressed desire to expand into the Whistlers Creek Valley, a critical wildlife travel corridor and habitat for mountain goats and the endangered woodland caribou.

However there is a component of this first part that we were given to understand would be tackled by Marmot Basin but which has now been delayed to the second part – mass transit. Mass transportation systems are now in use in many parks in the U.S. and there is no doubt that one would be the best solution for Marmot Basin. It would do much to lessen wildlife mortality on the 12 km access road running through a wilderness area that is important habitat for moose, caribou, lynx and bears.

Both the 2007 Strategic Environmental Assessment and the 2008 Marmot Basin Guidelines for Development and Use indicated the “Use of mass transit will be the primary means to address parking issues”. Marmot is putting this off and in the meantime will cut down 600 trees to enlarge its present parking areas for an increase in car numbers from 1000 to a total of 1,630 – with a “future option of developing a parkade structure”.

The only way to ensure the public will use a mass transit system is to disallow the use of cars on the hill. Marmot appears to be doing the opposite.

Article from the Fitzhugh June 11, 2015

ChairliftChillinSA

R. Fletcher photo

After nearly a decade of work, Marmot Basin’s first long range plan was approved last week, allowing the ski area to move forward with four projects, including the expansion of its snowmaking operations.

The long range plan outlines the projects Marmot wants to undertake in the next five to 15 years.

As well as building a brand new snowmaking system, which includes a reservoir that will hold 10 million gallons of water, Marmot’s long range plan also includes plans to expand its parking lots and its lower chalet and thin forests on Milk Run, Elevator Chutes and Little Chicago.

“We’re going to have some very busy years ahead of us to get this all done,” said Dave Gibson, president and CEO of Marmot.

“The primary project for us is going to be the snowmaking,” said Gibson, noting that the hope is to have the new system in place by 2017—although he admits that’s in an ideal world.

“We’re still trying to figure out the real costs for the snowmaking system, and it will be very expensive. By the time you build a reservoir, put all the piping in the ground, and all this other stuff, you’re talking several million [dollars].

“In an ideal world we’re at 2017 and you’re probably looking at 2018 or 2019 before we do anything else,” he said referring to the other projects in the plan.

Marmot’s long range plan is based on the Marmot Basin Site Guidelines approved by Parks Canada in 2008.

As well as outlining projects that Marmot hopes to undertake, the plan also includes a reduction in the ski area’s leasehold, with the Whistlers Creek area—about 118 hectares of land—being returned to Parks Canada.

“If you flip that over into … Canadian football fields, not American football fields, it’s the equivalent of about 150 Canadian football fields,” said Greg Fenton, superintendent of Jasper National Park. “It’s a very significant gain for the environment, but it also means a significant gain or enhancement to the visitor experience.”

Fenton said the return of Whistlers Creek was important for the protection of species at risk, like the caribou, that frequent the area.

With an approved long range plan, Fenton said it will expedite the approval process as Marmot moves forward with its four projects.

Marmot will, however, still have to go through the development process and provide the required environmental assessments for each of the projects. But, in some cases, some of that work has already been completed for the long range plan, so it reduces what needs to be accomplished moving foward.

“It certainly paves the way to get the project done relatively quickly, probably not for this ski season, but it helps them to advance that very expeditiously, given the scope and scale and magnitude of the project, because it’s a big one,” said Fenton of the new snowmaking system.

To provide snow to the mid-mountain area—on Paradise Run, Marmot Run, Basin Run, S Turns and Roll Out—the plan is to build a reservoir on a piece of land between the base of the old Kiefer T-Bar and the old triple chair.

“That’s a section of land that we’ve looked at for years,” said Gibson. “So what will happen now is the consultants were up last Tuesday [June 2] and they’ll start looking at that area and they’re going to put together a design proposal for us.”

While the reservoir engineers work on that, Golder Associates will work on an environmental assessment and Snow Machines, Inc. will design a pump house for the reservoir, as well as the piping that will go up the road to the top of the mountain.

“It’s a big job, there’s no doubt about it. But we’ll get it done,” said Gibson.

Snowmaking is a big part of Marmot’s early season strategy, allowing the ski area to open in mid-November.

“It’s been a big benefit to us and our employees and also the community of Jasper,” said Gibson. “I was here when we opened Marmot Basin at the end of November, I’ve also been here when we’ve opened two days before Christmas. If we’re not open, there’s not an awful lot happening in the community of Jasper and I feel that responsibility.

“So now with that snowmaking system on the lower part of the mountain, unless something really goes wrong, we’re pretty well guaranteed we can get open Remembrance Day, middle of November.

“It will be the same thing with the snowmaking on the upper part of the mountain. The sooner we can get that open, the sooner we can get people here in the restaurants and hotels and all that. That’s important to us.”

Nicole Veerman
editor@fitzhugh.ca

Parks takes a step back from RV camping at Jasper Airfield

Updated June 5, 2015

picnic-area2

Note from the Jasper Environmental Association:

Under the Freedom of Information Act the Jasper Environmental Association received more than 300 pages of papers that were part of the process prior to the decision by Parks Canada to put forward the present airstrip day-use area as a group RV campground. While the final decision is now on hold while other sites are considered the airstrip site is still on the list of possibilities and “could still see group RV camping for up to 12 RVs”

In view of the very strong arguments against the proposed project that Jasper National Park biologists and other staff put forward we have to wonder how it ever got to the stage that it did before sliding to at least a temporary halt. The released documents contain page after page of concerns from experts regarding the importance of this rare grassland area and the use of this riverside corridor by large carnivores and other wildlife.

There were also questions regarding the whole concept of catering to group RV camping which, by its nature is “louder and more disruptive to other campers”. The under-staffed Law Enforcement Branch didn’t want it either. There may be a very good reason that there are none of these serviced group sites in the Rocky Mountain National Parks and are even rare out in the province of Alberta. It seems Parks Canada saw a chance to make money and was hoping to locate one far enough away from other campers where only the wildlife would be disrupted. 

Maybe Parks should follow its own Guiding Principles and Operational Policies 4.3.2: ‘To avoid impacts on park ecosystems and to contribute to regional economic development the location of commercial services and facilities should take place in adjacent communities.’

From the Jasper Fitzhugh June 4, 2015

Parks Canada is taking a “step back” from its plans to develop an unserviced RV campsite at the Jasper Airfield and is considering other locations for a similar group campsite.

“What we wanted to do was take a step back and look at the changing needs or the growing demands that we get from campers, particularly RVers, for group RV camping,” explained Greg Fenton, superintendent of Jasper National Park.

This reexamination does not, however, take the airfield off the table for group RV camping, he said. Rather, Parks is analyzing other possible sites to see if they can fill the need, as well as provide service hookups, but down the line, the airfield could still see group RV camping for up to 12 RVs.

Earlier this year, Parks was criticized for its proposal to provide group camping opportunities for RVs at the airfield because the area includes sensitive grasslands that could be negatively affected by increased human activity. It was also criticized for its lack of communication about the proposal.

Fenton said, although Parks heard those concerns, that’s not what’s causing the agency to take a step back. It’s just that the demand shows RVers want a group site with hookups.

Currently, that’s a service that isn’t available in the park.

“The majority of the demand for RVs is usually for serviced sites, that’s why we have been—as part of improvements in the past—moving to electrification of more sites at Wabasso Campground, Whistler Campground and Wapiti.

“But we haven’t really met the sort of niche market, if you wanted to call it that, or the demand for group RVing. That’s what we originally had looked at trying to do [at the airfield].”

The airfield, however, would only be appropriate for short visits as it wouldn’t include hookups for water, sewer or electricity.

Parks is now considering the possibility of group sites within its existing campgrounds, specifically Whistlers, Wabasso and Wapiti.

“[We’re] really looking at all of the existing campgrounds to see if we can meet some of that growing demand.”

To pay for the necessary upgrades, Fenton said Parks will be receiving some federal infrastructure initiative funds—although those funds haven’t yet been announced.

Parks’ analysis of possible sites is currently underway and Fenton said that when more is known the public will be notified and given an opportunity to submit feedback.

“As we make decisions on where the group camping opportunities might be in the existing campgrounds, we’ll certainly make those known to interested public, including residents.”

Fenton said he expects there won’t be any decisions until next year at the earliest.

In the meantime, work is being done at the airfield—which Parks is now calling the Athabasca Terrace Day Use Area—to “formalize” the site.

That includes installing fencing to delineate where people can drive and park, installing a small arbour for weddings, improving the seating at the site and upgrading the picnic shelters.

Fenton said that work will be completed this year.

“The other thing that will take place is easier access,” he said. “I’m not sure if it will be an online booking tool, but [we’re] looking at the possibilities of reservations, similar to camping reservations.”

He said if bookings don’t move online, at the very least, Parks will update its website to include information on how to book, what the fee is and what you get for that fee.

Nicole Veerman
editor@fitzhugh.ca

Is promoting major bike events Parks Canada’s new mandate?

Updated February 26, 2015

Although Parks Canada repeatedly says it has no money for monitoring wildlife populations, for enforcement or for repairs to trails, it finds money to contribute $60,000 to a Tour of Alberta bike race on the 2015 September long weekend.

Now it is considering this Gran Fondo race in June. June is the month when the ungulates are having their young, when returning migratory birds are nesting and when the bears are moving down to the valleys. In other words, one of the most critical times of year in what is supposedly a protected place.

Gran Fondo bike race planned for Jasper

Posted by:  Posted date: February 25, 2015 In: ArchiveFeatureNews | comment : 0

gran_fondo

Creative Commons photo

Jasper’s cyclists are abuzz with anticipation of the arrival of the Tour of Alberta in September, but what they might not know is Jasper is just a few steps away from hosting another major road cycling event this summer.

Trevor Soll, the president of Multisports Canada, submitted paperwork with Parks Canada late last fall to host a Gran Fondo bike race in Jasper June 13 and 14.

While Parks Canada hasn’t yet given the full go-ahead, in an interview Feb. 19, Soll said it has given him “conditional approval” to hold the race.

A Gran Fondo is a long-distance road cycling event in which a large number of cyclists are individually timed as they race a marked route.

Fondos have gained popularity in North America over the last five years, and Soll has wanted to hold an event like this in Jasper since that rise began.

“[Jasper] is the perfect venue for it—the roads are great and it’s one of those untapped markets: Jasper has nothing like a Gran Fondo right now,” he said.

With the Tour of Alberta rolling through town later this summer, he said his event will be a good test for people to get a glimpse of what a major road cycling event in Jasper will look like.

But it’s not just a road bike race that Soll hopes to bring to Jasper in June. Along with the Gran Fondo June 13, he also hopes to pull off a triathlon the following day.

Soll will need support from the municipality on top of permission from Parks to make all this happen. At a council meeting Feb. 17 the municipality’s culture and recreation director, Yvonne McNabb, brought the information to council.

According to McNabb, Soll’s proposal is for a Gran Fondo bike race that would see more than 200 participants sign up. Three distances would be available for the race—160, 100 and 65 kilometres—which would follow some of the same routes the Tour of Alberta cyclists will ride (such as Highway 93A and the climb to Marmot Basin).

Each distance will be open to anyone aged 16 or older.

The triathlon on June 14 will consist of a 750-metre swim, a 26-kilometre bike ride and a 5-kilometre run. There will also be a “try-it” race, with shorter distances for those looking to test the triathlon waters, and a “Kids of Steel” race for young children.

Soll said the event will be a family-friendly one with opportunities for parents and kids to take part in all kinds of different races.

He also mentioned, and McNabb confirmed, that at this point he is not asking the municipality for money, simply for support in closing roads and using some of its facilities.

He will also be looking to partner with a local charity that he hopes will provide volunteers in exchange for a donation from his organization, and fundraising from race participants.

On March 2, Soll will meet with Parks Canada representatives and other interested parties to hammer out the details of the event.  He said he is currently working through a pile of documents to get everything ready, but he remains confident the race will go ahead.

“The good thing is [Parks] sees the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Trevor Nichols
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

Official Secrets: Parks mum on airstrip campground

Updated February 13, 2015

jasper national park, athabasca valley, Jasper Environmental Association, Parks Canada, campgroundn

Riverbank wildlife habitat

Posted by:  Posted date: February 11, 2015 In: ArchiveLetters To The Editor | 

Dear Editor,

Margaret Atwood wrote: “The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one,” but from the secrecy surrounding a development proposal at the airstrip one would think Parks Canada was running a spy agency rather than a Canadian national park.

In answer to a direct question from the Jasper Environmental Association, a persistent rumour was confirmed that Visitor Services is planning a campground at the day-use airstrip picnic area for the somewhat convoluted reason of meeting “demands for groups travelling together with a mixed array of camping units.”

We asked for an open process of decision-making but Parks says it is “following its routine processes and will provide an opportunity for public feedback at an appropriate time.” This invariably comes after they have prepared an environmental assessment to oil the way for the project, which may be followed later by a few mitigations to appease the public.

Does Parks intend to cater to every variable of passing trends and whims of tourism? It is already financially unable to maintain its present infrastructure. How can it afford to install the numerous utilities required by this “mixed array” of campers? Rather than destroy this lovely riverside area, why not open more sites at Whistlers or Wapiti or let Hinton benefit from this kind of campground? How will Parks enforce protection of the grasslands area? What about Parks’ commitment to its status as a Dark Sky Preserve?

Apparently the site was chosen from a list of seven. Where are the other six? Parks says they didn’t fit the criteria because they had “the potential to create impediments for wildlife movement and displace wildlife from their habitat.”

Riverbanks are critically important as wildlife habitat and movement corridors and in 1999 Parks recognized this by closing the Jackladder waterfront site and carrying out a controlled burn to create more grassland. To now propose a campground in the middle of it indicates a blatant disregard for Parks’ legislated protection of ecological integrity.

In its unseemly haste to provide the ultimate in “visitor experience” Parks seems to have forgotten why visitors come to the national parks in the first place. According to polls, questionnaires and surveys they choose overwhelmingly to experience what remains of unspoiled wilderness ­and the magnificent species that live here—even though Parks Canada and Tourism Jasper try hard to sweep those polls under the carpet.

Jill Seaton
Jasper, Alta.

At the end of the road…

Updated January 16, 2015

Maligne Road, Maligne Valley, Mountain woodland caribou, endangered species, Jasper Environmental Association, Jasper National Park, winter restrictions

Barricade preventing access to Maligne Caribou range

On December 22, 2014 Jasper field staff put up a barricade across the Maligne Road – not at the beginning of the Maligne Road but at the end of it, 40 kms into caribou habitat. The road is ploughed and sanded for the convenience of visitors and wolves.

According to legal directions the barricade should have been in place by November 28th. Skiers took advantage of the delay by going up and making full use of the Bald Hills critical caribou habitat ensuring a virtual highway for predators.

The barricade will be removed on February 28th because, apparently, the snow will then be hard enough to support wolves. It is probably useless to suggest that the field staff should re-examine the snow depth and density on that date to see if it has hardened up and, if not, then delay the opening.

maligne valley caribou, jasper national park, closure notice, parks canada, jasper environmental association

Closure notice against access to the Maligne Caribou Range

 

 

Much ado about … very little

Updated December 31, 2014

 

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

Mountain Woodland Caribou – image by Donald M. Jones

In October 2013 Parks Canada presented its draft Situation Analysis for the Maligne Valley. It clearly laid out its concerns for the valley’s hard-pressed caribou and grizzly bears and the JEA had high hopes that this augured well for the future of the valley’s wildlife.

A whole year passed and although the usual Cavell Road/Tonquin etc. ski restrictions were announced there was no word on any closures in the habitat of the tiny struggling Maligne herd of possibly only four animals. In mid-December the JEA was told that Parks Canada was in discussion with ‘stakeholders’. As we know of no conservation groups that were included in those final talks we presume it was local businesses and recreationists. Three days before Christmas, Parks issued the result of those discussions.

The Agency has taken some small steps that may, or may not, benefit Jasper’s rapidly declining caribou. The JEA supports the steps but wants to see something a lot stronger for these animals.

Jasper’s caribou are now considered part of the Central Mountain Caribou population by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The committee has recommended that the population be moved from “Threatened” to the higher-risk category of “Endangered,” but the minister has yet to act upon this recommendation.

Maligne-Brazeau Caribou Range

Maligne Road, Maligne Valley, Caribou licking salt, Jasper Environmental Association, Jasper National Park, winter restrictions

Maligne Road – caribou licking salt

Parks intends to close all Maligne caribou habitat to human use from the west side of the Maligne Road across the Maligne Range to the east side of the Icefields Parkway. However, the fact that the Maligne Road remains open will mean that wolves can still travel for nearly 40 km into caribou habitat. Salt on the road would still be an attraction for any caribou in the area.

For most of November and December, while Parks Canada was deciding what to do, skiers were using the Bald Hills area of the Maligne Range. If wolves travel up the road they will now have tracked access into caribou habitat unless, hopefully, there is a heavy snowfall to deter them.

This closure will only be in place until February 28th because Parks reasons that by then the snow is hard enough for wolves to travel on it anyway. Would it not be more sensible to wait and see just what the snow conditions are at the end of February before setting this arbitrary date?

Tonquin Caribou Range

Whistlers Valley, Tonquin caribou herd, Jasper National Park, winter restrictions, Jasper Environmental Association

Cladina spp. “reindeer lichens” on Caribou Knoll

Whistlers Creek Valley that runs along the north side of the Marmot Basin ski lease is now closed to human use until February 15th. Once again why the arbitrary end date? Caribou have recently been using the valley slopes to access the actual ski basin. Will they have left the area by February 15th?

It is hard to tell from the map included with ‘Tonquin Caribou Range’ whether the Black Diamond Caribou Knoll Run #22 from the Tres Hombres area back to ‘No Show’ #82 in the basin will be open or closed. It certainly should be closed as the Knoll contains some of the best lichen-rich caribou habitat in the area.

Given the lobbying by local interests and the priority that Ottawa presently gives to tourism over our species-at-risk, Jasper’s field managers have probably done what they can to help the caribou. With a captive breeding program that seems to be going nowhere, we can only hope that the closures delay the complete collapse of Jasper’s herds until field managers are once again allowed to give first priority to the park’s wilderness and wildlife – because once those herds have gone, getting them back may be impossible.

Maligne Valley and Whistler Creek closed until February

Updated December 25, 2014

Male Caribou 2

Parks Canada/R. Gruys photo

From the Jasper Fitzhugh December 25, 2014

Parks Canada has closed the Maligne and Whistler Creek valleys for the majority of the winter.

According to an email announcement made Dec. 22, winter recreational access to the Maligne Valley will be delayed until Feb. 28, while the Whistler Creek valley will remain closed to recreationalists until Feb. 15.

The closures are part of Parks’ efforts to protect critical caribou habitat, and were made in an announcement that Jasperites have been anticipating for weeks.

Few are happy about the decision, however.

In an interview Dec. 23, Jill Seaton of the Jasper Environmental Association said that the closures are a half-measure, and won’t do nearly enough to protect the extremely fragile caribou populations in Jasper.

She pointed out that the two areas Parks closed have already been open all winter, disturbing caribou and facilitating predator access while Jasperites flock to the popular winter destinations.

“It really is too little, too late,” she said.

In an email statement sent the same day, the JEA commented that “The fact that both these areas will be open to the public again at the end of February —no matter what the snow conditions are—indicates that orders from Ottawa head office are still focused on protecting business interests rather than the caribou.”

Seaton was also concerned that Maligne Lake Road will remain open all winter, increasing vehicle traffic in the area.

“The Maligne Road is still open. So the steps they have taken are the actual sort of minimum they could have done.”

Loni Klettl of the Jasper Trail Alliance said shutting down the Maligne Valley is also a big blow to winter recreationalists.

Klettl said that most die-hard backcountry users care deeply about protecting the caribou (she applauded Parks’ decision to act fast on the Whistlers Creek closures), but said that winter recreation options in Jasper are becoming few and far between.

“Right now, we don’t know where we’re going to go. There is nowhere else we can go right now; there is nowhere else,” she said.

She pointed out that most winter recreation in Jasper is being “pushed to the valley bottom” as Parks targets winter visitors, and while those routes are beautiful, dedicated users are losing the best winter terrain.

Jasper’s backcountry users are hearty, and will find new routes, but, unlike the Maligne Valley, they will be extremely advanced, and inaccessible to most users.

“We’re trying. We’re desperately trying, and we’re snuffling about—but there’s not really much right now.

“We’ll scrounge something, but the visitor gets robbed of everything that a winter park is supposed to be. And they’re being corralled into the valley bottoms.”

The closures are part of Parks’ recently intensified caribou conservation measures, and are legally required under the Species at Risk Act.

The act dictates that when a species is listed as threatened or endangered a recovery strategy is required, outlining what is scientifically required for the successful recovery of a species at risk, and setting out parameters to accomplish that.

Jasper’s caribou belong to the Southern Mountain population, and are listed as threatened. When they were last counted, only 41 caribou remained in the park: five in the Maligne herd, six in the Brazeau and 30 in the Tonquin.

The recovery strategy for Southern Mountain caribou was released in June 2014, and Parks is legally obligated to implement it on national parks land.

The new closures are part of measures undertaken to do that, and in a document attached to its Dec. 22 announcement, Parks pointed out that while it has a legal obligation to prevent the destruction of caribou critical habitat, significant critical habitat protection measures are already in place in Jasper.

Those include monitoring and management activities to reduce predation risk to caribou; maintenance and protection of old-growth habitat; consideration of critical habitat protection in fire and vegetation management plans; and reduced speed zones on roads through critical habitat

The announcement came a full 25 days after a legal deadline Parks initially set for itself to implement habitat protection measures.

In an Oct. 29 press release Parks noted that the organization had a “legal obligation under the Species at Risk Act to implement caribou critical habitat protection measures by Nov. 28, 2014.”

That date came and passed with no meaningful comments from Parks, and the organization has refused to comment on the date, or provide any clarification about where the legal deadline stemmed from.

Parks’ caribou conservation strategy has been under heavy scrutiny lately, but aside from an occasional written statement, the organization has had little to say to the public.

It remained silent on the fate of its captive breeding program, after its major partner in the project, the Calgary Zoo, backed out due to funding concerns.

In the document attached to information on the closures, Parks maintained that is “committed to the implementation of a captive breeding program to support Southern Mountain Caribou recovery objectives,” but the organization has provided no meaningful information since the zoo pulled out of the project.

It also refuses to comment on the legal challenge brought forward by Ecojusitce lawyers, on behalf of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the JEA, challenging Supt. Greg Fenton’s decision to proceed with plans for overnight accommodations at Maligne Lake, which the organizations are worried will significantly disrupt caribou there.

Parks Canada was unable to provide a spokesperson by the Fitzhugh’s deadline.

Check back with the Fitzhugh for continued, in-depth coverage of the closures, and their implications for both the caribou survival and winter recreationalists.

Trevor Nichols
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

Parks silent on caribou strategy for JNP

Updated December 3, 2014

Southern Mountain caribou, Maligne herd, Mts. Charlton and Unwin, Maligne Range

Part of the dwindling Maligne herd by Don Jones of Great West Imagery

Parks Canada is dodging questions about a Nov. 28 legal deadline stemming from the Species at Risk Act, after failing to release any new information on its strategy for conserving critical caribou habitat by that date.

In June 2014, the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada was released. Jasper’s four woodland caribou herds have struggled for years, and many are now on the brink of being completely wiped out.

The recovery strategy set goals for recovery of southern mountain caribou across their entire range and identified habitat critical to the animals’ survival, as well as activities likely to result in the destruction of that habitat.

In an Oct. 29 press release outlining caribou conservation and winter recreation efforts, Parks noted that in the wake of the report’s release the organization had a “legal obligation under the Species at Risk Act to implement caribou critical habitat protection measures by Nov. 28, 2014.”

Despite repeated requests, Parks representatives have refused to provide any clarification on exactly what those legal obligations are, or what part of the act they stem from.

A Nov. 21 email from Parks Canada’s public relations and communications officer Kavitha Palanisamy contained a prepared statement, which she asked the Fitzhugh to attribute to John Wilmshurst, a resource conservation manager in Jasper National Park. It referred to “legal obligations” under the act, but did not elaborate on what exactly they were.

“Parks Canada is committed to its responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act and will ensure that critical habitat protection measures are in place for the Southern Mountain caribou herds within the mountain national parks. Caribou critical habitat and conservation actions are currently being reviewed across the mountain parks to ensure they meet Parks Canada’s legal obligations and contribute to caribou recovery as outlined in the 2014 Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada. Parks Canada will make this information available when this review is complete.”

Palanisamy would not provide any more information at that time.

On Nov. 28, after several requests from the Fitzhugh, Parks still hadn’t provided any new information on its caribou critical habitat protection measures.

In an email sent at 5:38 p.m. that evening, Palanisamy wrote: “My apologies. I was hoping to get you some information today, but wasn’t able to.”

On Dec. 1, Palanisamy emailed another prepared statement, asking that it be attributed to Alan Fehr, the field unit superintendent for Jasper National Park.

The statement, in its entirety, read: “Parks Canada remains committed to meeting its responsibilities under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and to contributing to Southern Mountain caribou recovery. Throughout the mountain parks, on-going implementation of caribou recovery actions is effectively protecting caribou herds and critical habitat. Additional measures to further enhance critical habitat protection in Jasper National Park are currently being considered.”

Later that day, the Fitzhugh reached Palanisamy by phone and asked for clarification.

When asked why Parks released no new information on Nov. 28, Palanisamy said there was nothing else she could say.

“Unfortunately what I’ve provided you is what I can offer you at this point in time. I will keep you informed as the announcement evolves. But at this point that’s all I can give you.”

The Fitzhugh then asked Palanisamy if Parks was planning on giving any sort of announcement at any point in the near future.

“I’m not sure; I can’t confirm,” she said.

When then pressed about whether or not Parks would release any more information about its caribou recovery strategy at any time, Palanisamy said “we hope to.” But when asked to confirm whether or not it will actually happen, she responded: “I don’t have any further information for you.”

Parks’ statements—especially the Nov. 21 email—seem to indicate the organization plans, or at least planned, to make an announcement about its caribou conservation plan at some point.

Many in the community, including members of the Jasper Environmental Association and Jasper Trail Alliance expected Parks to have already done so, and have expressed surprise that it hasn’t happened.

But with Parks refusing to provide meaningful communication, it’s impossible to guess when or if more information will come.

Trevor Nichols
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

A silent power: Parks mum on caribou conservation

Caribou Looking at Camera

R. Gruys photo

Silence carries significant weight.

Depending on the circumstances, people love it or hate it. There’s no middle ground.

In the wilderness, it makes for good company. We bask in it, enjoying the sound of birds, squirrels, breaking ice and rushing water. But in day to day life, many of us find it disconcerting and choose to fill it with meaningless drivel—just to avoid a few uncomfortable moments of quiet.

Silence is unnerving, especially when you’ve waited in painful anticipation for an onslaught of noise—noise that’s been promised, but never seems to come.

That was the case on Nov. 28. Jasperites of all stripes waited impatiently, with knots in their stomachs, for a decision from Parks Canada.

The agency had cited that day as its deadline to ensure caribou conservation efforts in Jasper National Park were in line with the Species at Risk Act, saying it had a “legal obligation” under the act, following the release of the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada.

Rightfully so, Jasperites assumed those increased efforts would warrant an announcement of sorts—a press release or even a press conference. But, Nov. 28 passed without a word from Parks.

And the silence persists.

Nearly a week has passed since the deadline quietly passed and no announcements have been made. In fact, Parks won’t even comment on whether or not an announcement is forthcoming.

Silence.

It’s a powerful tool. Through silence, Parks leaves the community stirring. We’re all squirming in our seats, wondering what’s to come.

For the winter recreationalists, there’s fear that the entire Maligne Valley will see a winter closure, reducing the number of available ski trails and removing a hub of winter activity from JNP’s trail network.

For the environmentalists, there’s a fear that Parks won’t do enough. The Jasper Environmental Association has been calling on the agency to close Maligne Lake Road for the winter months since 1992, and it is still waiting.

Jasper’s caribou are in dire straits, with few still remaining in the park. No one is denying that Parks needs to do something—anything—to improve the odds for these majestic animals.

But, when it comes down to making those decisions, the community should be at the very least informed—if not consulted.

But here we sit in uncomfortable silence, perhaps waiting for a great loss to the kind of silence we still enjoy.

editor@fitzhugh.ca