Former Parks Canada senior staff oppose Maligne Hotel

Updated April 9, 2014

Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, hotel proposed,

The Hall of the Gods, Maligne Lake

 

Open letter to Canada’s Minister of the Environment

April 9, 2014

Honourable Leona Aglukkaq

Minister of the Environment

House of Commons Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

By email: Minister@ec.gc.ca

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

Dear Minister:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

Stephen Woodley, PhD Former Chief Ecosystem Scientist, Parks Canada

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

Saving the National Parks from Politicians

Updated March 8, 2014

 

Prospectus for a new National Parks Commission  – by Ben Gadd

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever hear this story?

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

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

Protecting a ‘memorable experience’

Updated February 25, 2014

grizzly mother and cub, postcard, Maligne Valley, Jasper National Park

Worth protecting

Letter to the Editor. Jasper Fitzhugh February 13, 2014

Parks Canada describes the grizzly bear as an “icon of the Canadian Rockies wilderness” and, in the park management plan, commits repeatedly to “maintaining and improving” its habitat security. Unfortunately this does not stop the agency from backing development plans by a commercial interest Read the rest of this entry »

Maligne Lake proposal draws criticism

Updated January 24, 2014

Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, winter scene

Maligne in midwinter

Rocky Mountain Outlook

A proposal for overnight commercial accommodation on the shores of Jasper’s Maligne Lake is against Parks Canada’s own policies and threatens treasured wildlife like grizzly bears, harlequin ducks and caribou, according to leading environmental lawyers.

EcoJustice, which provides legal services free-of-charge to charities and citizens on the front lines of the environmental movement, has drawn up a submission to Parks Canada on behalf of the Jasper Environmental Association (JEA) and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to fight the proposal by Maligne Tours. Read the rest of this entry »

Biologists’ letter regarding Maligne hotel proposal

Updated January 7, 2014

woodland Caribou, Maligne herd, Jasper National Park, Maligne Road, licking salt

Caribou of the Maligne herd on the Maligne Road

A letter from three former Canadian Wildlife Service biologists regarding the Maligne hotel proposal outlines the potential danger to the small struggling Maligne caribou herd.

Facilities expansion at Maligne Lake related to caribou preservation

The number of caribou in southern Jasper National Park is estimated at only 55 individuals. In 1988 the estimate was 175 to 200 caribou. Located at the southern edge of their distribution in Alberta and Canada, these caribou are in danger of disappearing from their mountain habitat. A marginal habitat combined with sometimes unfavourable snow conditions, climate change, abundant predators, and human developments critically endangers the local population of caribou.

The Maligne subherd is currently estimated at only 5 individuals, down from about 60 individuals in 1998. They may not persist but recovery is not out of the question and their habitat within historical range should not be written off. Caribou from other areas in the park could move into the Maligne Lake watershed.

A primary concern with the proposed expansion is increased traffic on Maligne Lake road. This is a major expansion of the current chalet that would greatly increase traffic on the road during construction, servicing, and maintenance. The concern is potential disturbance of caribou spending parts of winters in the vicinity of the road, and potential caribou mortality from vehicles and wolves that travel on the road in winter. Wolves are known to travel on the road from near Jasper to Maligne Lake.

The Maligne Lake road should be closed in winter to give the remaining caribou a greater chance of survival. An increase in traffic in daylight and darkness means more grading of snow in winter and probable use of salt that attracts caribou to the road. In winters 1988/89 and 1989/90, caribou were seen many times consuming salt on the road.

A second concern relates to increased use by people in the vicinity of the present chalet at Maligne Lake. In the late 1980s and early 1990s caribou used habitat all around Maligne Lake. There was extensive use of habitat adjacent to the Bald Hills trail to the west of the chalet. Increased daily activity of an additional 100 to 200 people around the proposed development may cause caribou to leave or avoid the area. Expansion will result in more power generation, much more water and waste servicing, and more roads, trails, parking, and recreational activities. Roads, snowmobile tracks and ski trails facilitate wolf travel and increased predation of caribou.

Collectively, we have worked as research scientists in Jasper National Park for many years, spanning the 1950’s to the 1990s. We strongly object to the development of a new hotel at Maligne Lake for a host of reasons, including potential additional threats to the caribou. In our opinion, the development is inconsistent with policy of Parks Canada and its’ Charter. More specifically, it is contrary to a commitment “To protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole.” It is also contrary to the 2010 management plan for the park. Creation of jobs and stimulation of the economy is contrary to the mandate of Parks Canada. The hotel project should not be approved.
Donald Thomas PhD, 46 Pineview Drive, St. Albert, AB T8N 4S8 caribou@shaw.ca
George Scotter PhD, 308, 1963 Durnin Road, Kelowna, BC V1X 7Y4
Donald Flook PhD, 129, 609 Trusswell Road, Kelowna, BC V1W 321
06 Jan 2014

Ben Gadd’s letter to “the enemy”.

Updated December 12, 2013

 

From Parks Canada’s official website for Jasper National Park, December 11th, 2013:

To receive a copy of Maligne Tours’ proposal and information on their public engagement process please visit their website at: http://www.malignelake.com/renewal.html 

Comments on the proposal can be directed to comments@malignelake.com 
NOTE: Any comments about the Maligne Tours Redevelopment Proposal received by Parks Canada will be forwarded to Maligne Tours for their consideration. 

What? I’m supposed to send my comments about a major Maligne Tours development proposal to their website, not to Parks Canada, the decision-maker? In fact, “Any comments about the Maligne Tours Redevelopment Proposal received by Parks Canada will be forwarded to Maligne Tours for their consideration.”

Whoa. This is perverse. Parks Canada has slipped a long way down a dangerous slope. Read the rest of this entry »