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

 

Funding threatens caribou program

Updated November 6, 2014

Woodland Caribou, Tonquin herd, Jasper National Park, endangered species, COSEWIC, Calgary Zoo

Tonquin caribou in September – by Scott Nicholson

From the Rocky Mountain Outlook by Cathy Ellis

The future of a captive breeding program to boost dangerously low caribou numbers in the mountain national parks now appears uncertain.

The Calgary Zoo pulled out of the program with Parks Canada due to lack of funding and support. Parks Canada is believed to be in preliminary discussions with the University of Calgary on the issue.

“The Calgary Zoo has decided not to proceed with the breeding and recovery of the woodland caribou project, a collaboration between Parks Canada and the B.C. government,’’ according to a statement from the Calgary Zoo.

“We concluded that the funding proposed by Parks Canada put too much of the financial burden on the Calgary Zoo at a time when we have many other conservation and flood recovery priorities.”

In November 2011, the federal government announced a caribou captive breeding partnering arrangement between Parks Canada, the B.C. government and Calgary Zoo. The captive breeding program is a cornerstone of Parks Canada’s caribou conservation strategy.

The goal is to provide source animals from B.C. to supplement critically small herds in Jasper, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks, as well as to reintroduce caribou to Banff National Park.

Twenty-five years ago, more than 800 caribou ranged in the mountain national parks. Today, fewer than 250 animals remain.

A remnant herd of five animals in Banff National Park was completely wiped out in an avalanche in 2009. Three of four herds in Jasper have dropped to critically low numbers, with two of the herds – the Maligne and Brazeau – having less than 10 animals.

Earlier this year, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) declared caribou are more at risk than ever. They listed the central population of mountain caribou, which includes the protected regions of Banff and Jasper, as endangered.

At the time the captive breeding program was announced, the plan indicated captive breeding would be a long-term project with a goal of supplying caribou for approximately four to six sub-populations over a 10- to 20-year period.

It stated that year one would see potentially 20 caribou, likely from suitable wild herds in British Columbia, moved to the Calgary Zoo’s ranch facility south of Calgary. The conservation herd would then be augmented by an additional 20 wild caribou the following year.

Under the captive breeding plan, the first yearlings would be trans-located from the conservation herd to the wild in year three.

Conservationists say it would be a shame to see the captive breeding program held up or shelved.

But, they say, protection of existing habitat is critical, noting Parks Canada should say no to expansion of Jasper’s Marmot Basin ski hill as well as close Maligne Lake Road in winter – both areas fall within caribou habitat.

Wendy Francis, program director for the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative, said caribou are an important species in the national park system.

“They’ve disappeared from Banff and are in a lot of trouble in Jasper, and this particular project held out a lot of hope that we could restore caribou to Banff and strengthen numbers in Jasper,” she said.

“It is disappointing that we might not get that chance, at least in the short-term.”

Carolyn Campbell, Alberta Wilderness Association conservation specialist, said the most important issue behind plummeting caribou populations across Alberta, including national park lands, is habitat loss.

“The top priority should be to really focus on restoring habitat so caribou actually have a chance to survive. I don’t see it as much of a concern if there is delay in captive breeding – that’s not the root cause,” she said.

“Even though we think of national parks as pristine, they have been really altered by roads and trails. What we would really support is efforts by Parks to work with users to try to pull back our footprint.”

Several key threats have been identified as contributing to declining caribou populations in the national parks, including altered predator-prey dynamics with increasing elk, deer and wolves, and increased access by wolves into caribou range on packed trails.

Other threats include human disturbance, including roads that pose the risk of caribou being run over and killed. Caribou can also be displaced from prime feeding grounds by hikers and dogs.

On neighbouring provincial lands, the most significant and immediate threat to caribou is increased predation by wolves, resulting from dramatic habitat alteration due to industrial activities.

Industrial activities such as logging, mining and mineral exploration, and oil and gas exploration and development remove or destroy caribou habitat and create habitats favoured by other prey species such as moose and deer.

Because wolves prefer to eat moose and deer, increased numbers of those prey species support higher numbers of wolves than would occur naturally in ecosystems dominated by older forest ecosystems. Wolves can also easily travel up roads with industrial and recreational activities, giving them much easier access to caribou.

Parks Canada did not get back to the Outlook by press time. All media queries must be cleared by Parks Canada’s national office.

Maligne Implementation Strategy – JEA concerns

Updated October 31, 2014

Moose, Maligne Valley, Maligne Road, Jasper National Park, Maligne Tours

Cow Moose on the Maligne Road

 

Jasper Environmental Association

Box 2198, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0

October 29, 2014

Parks Canada

maligne@pc.gc.ca

Re: Draft Discussion Paper on the Maligne Valley Implementation Strategy 

We thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Maligne Valley Implementation Strategy Discussion Paper.

The JEA understands the aim of this Discussion Paper is the improvement of visitor experience, protection of the endangered woodland caribou and increased habitat security for the grizzly bear.

Visitor Experience

We note that, according to Parks Canada’s own survey, visitors already seem well satisfied with their visits to the valley. However, some improvements such as additional Animal Guardians, updated interpretive panels and more picnic tables and toilets would be welcome.

The JEA has some concerns about the following proposals:

  • P5 Providing new short walks or hikes.
    • The Maligne Valley is narrow with several pinch points but serves as an important seasonal wildlife corridor between the alpine and montane ecoregions. Has Parks Canada enough data on wildlife movement to provide new walks and hikes in the vicinity of the road that would not adversely affect the animals or increase the danger of human/wildlife encounters?
    • It seems unwise to spend money on the boat launch area at the north end of Medicine Lake if it is going to be wiped out by the fairly regular flooding in that corner of the lake.
    • Could brushing along the road have the effect of making the area more attractive to bears and create additional bear jams?
    • P6 If you are going to ‘involve commercial operators’ public input should be allowed on each separate operation
      • There is some reference to ‘behind the scenes’ tours. Could we please have more information on this idea?
      • Dark Sky Programs. These should not be organized at Maligne Lake. Night-time traffic must not be encouraged on that road.

The Jasper National Park Management Plan 3.2.1 acknowledges that two of the most important ecological challenges facing the park are the status of woodland caribou and the regional grizzly bear

If Parks Canada is truly committed to preserving these two iconic species then their protection must be given a higher priority than ‘visitor experience’ which already seems to be satisfactory according the Park surveys.

Woodland Caribou

  • P9  “Developing some new opportunities in areas outside of caribou habitat…” what is ‘outside’ caribou habitat in the Maligne Valley when you are talking of re-introducing caribou to augment the remnants of the Maligne herd? For example, the area at the north end of Medicine Lake was definitely caribou habitat 12 years ago.
  • P10 “The future of woodland caribou is the most pressing resource conservation issue in the Maligne Valley”…“Parks Canada now has a legal obligation to implement critical habitat protection”(Discussion Paper) “Losing even one caribou out of the Maligne herd could be critical to their long-term persistence”(Situation Analysis). Strong words … but there still appears to be no planned trail closures for the 2014-2015 winter in the Maligne area even though the Situation Analysis points out that the area between the Watchtower and Hardisty Pass is important habitat for the remnant herd and that “continued recreational use of a number of areas, such as Bald Hills and Jeffery Creek provides wolves with an unnatural advantage in accessing caribou habitat…” Presumably this should mean closing all trails in the Jeffrey Creek, Evelyn Creek and Trapper Creek drainages. It should also mean closing the Maligne road.
  • P12 “intact habitat” for introduced population of caribou must be “intact”. Parks should not be whittling away bits of it to placate local recreationists.

Grizzly Bears

  • P11 Parks recognizes that displacement and habituation are the main threats to grizzly bears in the Maligne Valley but then points out that at busy times during the summer, “bears can use high quality habitat at quieter times of the year and in more remote areas of the valley.”  It is hard to know what is meant by “quieter times of the year” as bears usually hibernate from November to late April. Research has also shown that bears habitually use valley bottoms as travel corridors and if this is the location of the best food supply this is where they will look for it.
  • We are assured on p13 that “Several actions are proposed to improve the situation for grizzly bears, by lessening displacement of bears from important habitats, making wildlife movements through pinch points easier and reducing habituation and the risk of surprise encounters between bears and people.”
  • P13 Actions to adjust trails and wilderness campgrounds, placing permanent bear warnings on the Opal Hills and removing obsolete facilities from pinch points are good first steps. However, the Skyline Trail could pose a problem for bears if the growing September/October shoulder season attracts more than 100 users per month – the threshold beyond which research has shown grizzlies are adversely affected. This is an important time for them for digging out ground-squirrels and locating den sites.
  • P17 Parks Canada will “explore ways to make human activity more predictable for bears in and around the Maligne Day Use Area.

There are encouraging statements here that may lead readers to believe that definite steps will be taken to give these hard-pressed species the protection they deserve in a national park. That is, until we come to the final pages of the document when we are faced with the proposal by Maligne Tours for overnight commercial accommodation.

If Maligne Tours is allowed to construct tent cabins in a pinch point at the north end of Maligne Lake it will effectively negate all Parks Canada’s proposals to improve grizzly habitat security and movement corridors and adversely affect future attempts to protect intact habitat for re-introduced caribou. It will also adversely affect the thousands of day-use visitors who travel to this iconic lake for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Parks Canada assures us it will “(W)ork with Maligne Tours to update their visitor facilities and operations at Maligne Lake, while ensuring all facilities, activities and services are consistent with Parks Canada’s legislative and policy framework, meet objectives or criteria set out in the management plan….” But they are not “consistent with Parks Canada’s legislative and policy framework” and do not “meet the objectives or criteria set out in the management plan”.

The management plan is the result of many years of research and months of public input. It is accepted by the Minister and tabled in Parliament. To amend it to satisfy the demands of a business interest could devalue the whole concept of management plans throughout the national parks system. Presumably the ‘wildlife-themed children’s maze’ will require another licence-of-occupation, resulting in Maligne Tours taking up a large part of the north shore of the lake. Incidentally the open area south of the boathouse that has been referenced as possibly being the location for this ‘maze’ is an important feeding and rutting area for moose.

For many years Parks Canada has stressed the importance of the environmental assessment as a determining factor in whether projects will be approved or not. An environmental assessment, paid for by the proponent, inevitably ensures it cannot be objective and, as far as we can ascertain, has never stopped any project yet. An environmental assessment virtually oils the way for development and at best leads to minor mitigations many of which should already have been carried out by any conscientious business operating in a national park. It is time for Parks Canada to stop citing the environmental assessment as being a defining element in the decision-making process.

 

Sincerely

Original signed by

Jill Seaton (Chair)

Jasper Environmental Association

 

Have your say on the Maligne Valley

Updated October 14, 2014

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

The Sinking Ship – Maligne Lake

Parks Canada needs to hear from you.

 

The Maligne Valley in Jasper National Park is home to some spectacular wildlife including grizzly bears, black bears, caribou, moose, harlequin ducks and black swifts.

Parks Canada, pressured by business interests, is considering allowing overnight commercial accommodation in the form of tent cabins at the iconic Maligne Lake. This will not benefit the wildlife. It will mean people moving around at night, increased night traffic on the 48 km road to the lake and will necessitate an amendment to the Jasper National Park Management Plan that could create a bad precedent for other Canadian national parks.

What would you – the Canadian people – like to see in this lovely wilderness valley? This is your national park. It is also part of an UNESCO World Heritage Site that Canada has committed to protect for all people.

Parks Canada has issued a draft Discussion Paper on an Implementation Strategy for the Maligne Valley. http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/jasper/plan/maligne.aspx

If you are in Jasper, Prince George or Edmonton there will be forums this week:

Jasper – Wednesday, Oct 15, Jasper Activity Centre at 6:30 p.m.

Prince George – Wednesday, Oct 15, via video conference, University of Northern B.C. 5-140D Library Building, (first floor), at 5:30 p.m. (Pacific Time)

Edmonton – Thursday, Oct 16, Edmonton Sheraton Hotel at 6:30 p.m.

For other Canadians and world citizens comments may be sent to maligne@pc.gc.ca until October 31, 2014

 

A letter from a former Parks Canada insider

Updated October 3, 2014

Mount Charlton, Mount Unwin, Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, Jasoer Environmental Association, Maligne Tours

Our website featured an exchange of letters between Grant Potter and Superintendent Greg Fenton in our September 2013 blog under the title Save Our National Parks. The following letter expressing Grant’s concern regarding the proposed tent cabins and amendment to the Jasper National Park Management Plan was received today by the JEA.

 

Grant Potter

Box 1877

Jasper, AB

T0E 1E0

 

October 3, 2014

 

Greg Fenton

Superintendent, Jasper National Park of Canada

Box 10

Jasper, AB

T0E 1E0

 

Re:  Maligne Tours Proposal

Dear Greg:

Me again.  To say that I was disappointed when I saw Parks Canada’s announcement that it will continue to consider tent cabins at Maligne would be an understatement.

Taking out consideration of the hotel in no way makes the proposal more palatable or less in contravention of the management plan.  And to hear Parks will amend the management plan to allow the release of new land for this new outlying commercial accommodation (OCA) causes me a number of concerns.

  1. Not only will the release of lands statement need to be amended, but also any reference to following the OCA Guidelines (i.e. no new OCAs), and the statement that Maligne Tours will be held to the development limits in their land agreements.
  2. The precedents.  If another entrepreneur wants an OCA at Lake Annette, will it be considered?  Can the existing OCA operators be held to the restrictions in the guidelines?

Management plans are intended to guide decision-making, not be amended to fit decisions made.  They are also there to record decisions made.  There are very few unequivocal statements in the current management plan but the ones relating to this proposal are very clear.  They are the declaration of conscious decisions made prior to any proposal, that were put through public consultation, vetted by Parliament and approved by the Minister.  And Parks is tossing that all out.

I spent many years implementing some of the direction in the management plan and defending the plan and the planning process to those skeptics who felt Parks had hidden agendas or ulterior motives.  I can’t anymore and I take it personally that this decision makes liars out of us all.

Lastly, these developments are all justified by “improving visitor experience” which is a valid goal for Parks Canada, but what happened to “gaining the support of the Canadian public”?  Allowing more development in the park is not helping Parks Canada’s image in the eyes of the general public.

 

In frustration,

 

 

Grant Potter

 

 

Copies:            Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment

John McKay, MP Liberal Environment Critic

Megan Leslie, MP NDP Environment Critic

Jasper Environmental Association