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

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.


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.


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

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.



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.

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 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









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 and

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?