Proposed power line a threat to wildlife and its habitat

Updated February 16, 2018

ATCO stake for a power pole beside the Snaring wetlands

ATCO stake for a power pole beside the Snaring wetlands

ATCO proposes a transmission line to replace Palisades power plant

Jasper National Park is threatened by a proposed transmission line that will put unacceptable pressure on the park’s most critical wildlife habitat and adversely affect the wild beauty of the Athabasca Valley. The line would also be exposed to the dangers of extreme weather events leading to possible power outages in Jasper.

The Palisades natural gas-powered generating plant is made up of a combination of gas turbines and diesel generators that produce electricity for the Jasper area. Some of the generating equipment is at the end of its useful life and other equipment will need to be retired within the next decade.  As a solution the power company, ATCO, favours an overhead line to connect Jasper to the Alberta grid; it would run 45 km from a transition tie-in at the east park boundary to a new substation replacing the old power plant.

The line, carried on 480 power poles would follow the Athabasca Valley running through the centre of the park. This is a critical wildlife corridor and winter habitat for both prey and predators. Its forests and numerous wetlands provide important nesting habitat and a flyway for summer migrant birds on their way to arctic and prairie breeding grounds. But transmission lines pose a real danger, killing as many as 41 million birds across Canada each year.

As Dave Hatto, Vice Chair of the JEA points out: “ATCO’s environmental impact assessment admits that even with mitigations there would still be habitat loss, displacement or alteration of wildlife movement patterns and increased mortality risk. This is unacceptable in a national park and world heritage site.”

Power poles up to 19m high will detract from park visitor experience and the stunning views of a still virtually unspoiled mountain landscape.  ATCO is also planning to log almost 27,000 trees more than 2.5m high on its right-of-way.

At a recent four-day hearing held by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) in Calgary experts pointed out that rebuilding the present generation plant would be cheaper and prove more reliable than an exposed line susceptible to windstorms and forest fires. This solution would also preserve the integrity of the park’s wildlife habitat and leave the views unspoiled.

A decision by the AUC is expected sometime this spring.

Contacts:

Dave Hatto 780-852-9733 djhatto@telus.net

Jill Seaton 780-852-4152 jea2@shaw.ca

ATCO stake for a power pole in spruce forest along Celestine Lake road.

ATCO stake for a power pole in spruce forest along Celestine Lake road.

Parks Canada says no ski lifts in Whistlers Creek valley

Updated November 28, 2017

panorama off-piste2

Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park recently announced five new expert ski runs in critical habitat of threatened woodland caribou (considered ‘endangered’ by COSEWIC). The Tres Hombres slope above the Whistlers Creek Valley is within Marmot’s leasehold but outside its developed footprint and is part of the range of the Tonquin caribou herd. Since 1981 Parks Canada has refused any development into the valley due to the vulnerability of the caribou and mountain goats. Now Parks has given the nod to Marmot’s new runs but will not allow ski lifts.

Marmot’s expansion into the Whistlers Valley does not sit well with George Mercer, Jasper’s former Wildlife Specialist who spent most of his ten years in Jasper trying to get the Agency to take concrete steps to save the park’s declining caribou herds only to see them almost completely wiped out in the Maligne Range and other habitat east of the Icefield’s Parkway. In Mercer’s view:  “Caribou range west of the Parkway, including Whistlers Creek, represents the last foothold for woodland caribou in the southern part of the park, and if anything, human activity there should be reduced instead of expanded.”

While Parks Canada once again appears to have sided with a business interest, it has told the Jasper Environmental Association that a “permanent decision” has been made that no ski lifts will be permitted on the slopes of Whistlers Valley. Any skiers on the Tres Hombres slope will have to exit that run via a long traverse across the once aptly named Caribou Knoll to regain access to the ski lifts in the developed area.

This refusal to allow lifts on Tres Hombres would also apply to the nearby Outer Limits slope where the absence of a lift would mean there is no way out except through mountain goat habitat that is now protected by Parks.

This ‘no lift’ decision appears to reflect the strong recommendations of the 2014 Tonquin Caribou Risk Assessment report by an independent caribou specialist and a report in the Journal of Wildlife Management that indicated the avoidance by mountain goats of important habitat in the Marmot Basin ski area.

 

Increased pressure on the Tonquin caribou herd

Updated November 11, 2017

 

Tres Hombres slope. Proposed site for five expert runs

Tres Hombres slope. Proposed site for five expert runs

Jasper’s Marmot Basin has announced plans to open one of the slopes above Whistlers Creek to off-piste skiing this winter. The Tres Hombres slope is part of Marmot’s leasehold but outside its present developed footprint.

In 2007 the Marmot Basin Strategic Environmental Assessment including site guidelines for future development and use of Marmot’s leasehold was made public. It theorized that off-piste skiing in the Outer Limits and Tres Hombres area could influence caribou use of habitat in and around Whistlers Creek valley and could result in the disturbance of caribou outside the boundary. Because of these concerns it was decided that any proposed development in this area should be determined by a Caribou Risk Assessment.

The 160-page Tonquin Caribou Risk Assessment, by University of Alberta caribou specialists, was completed in 2014. It pointed out that all the Whistlers valley slopes are part of the endangered Tonquin caribou herd’s range and stated clearly: New developments within the Tonquin range could exacerbate current conditions, and therefore would not be consistent with the need for active recovery efforts to address threats to the rapidly declining Tonquin caribou population.

Off-piste skiing has been carried on in the Tres Hombres area by a few hardy skiers each winter if snow conditions are favourable.  However, this announcement by Marmot designating five expert runs on the slope and the installation of fencing and gates appears to be an increase in development.

Will there be an increase in avalanche control for this official ski slope? There are bound to be people with limited skiing ability who will be tempted to use these listed runs; what plans are there for the evacuation of casualties? What is there to stop skiers from continuing down to Whistlers Creek that is a closed area until February 16th each year to protect caribou from ingress by wolves taking advantage of ski tracks?

Because Tres Hombres is within its leasehold Marmot may feel within its rights to use the area but considering the plight of this struggling caribou herd is it not incumbent on Parks Canada under the Species at Risk Act to require that Marmot stay inside its present developed footprint?

Jasper Environmental Association

A letter from a visitor from the Netherlands

Updated November 3, 2017

November 3, 2017

Shame on Parks Canada

My family and I visited Jasper and Banff National Parks for the first time in 1979. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery and the abundant wildlife of the great Canadian wilderness. We kept coming back and over the past decades we’ve spent twelve vacations in these magnificent mountain parks.

Back home in the Netherlands we told our friends of our adventures and as a result some of them came to Canada as tourists to see for themselves.

Over the years,however, we began to notice some changes that were taking place and not for the better, unfortunately. Gradually the situation went from bad to worse.

Banff became overdeveloped and the ongoing commercialization took place at a huge cost to the environment. Its wildlife population is fragmented and in trouble. Some people refer to Banff as Disneyland North and scientists wonder if the park will be a nature preserve or a fancy resort for rich people over the long term.

We assumed history wouldn’t repeat itself and that Parks Canada wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. After all, their mission is to preserve Canada’s natural heritage for future generations and to maintain the ecological integrity of these once pristine parks.

To our dismay we found out that we had been naive. The same kind of disaster that happened in Banff is currently taking place in Jasper. Parks Canada continues to give in to the requests of commercial interests. It’s the same old song all over again. More tourist attractions, more accommodation, more facilities and more money for businesses.

Parks Canada allowed a commercial company, Brewster Travel Canada, to build the Skywalk, another expensive tourist trap. Moreover, once the plan for a hotel at Maligne Lake had been rejected, Parks Canada thought of another kind of accommodation that would enable visitors to spend the night there, tent cabins. And now they are constructing the Jasper-Icefields bike trail , which is damaging prime grizzly habitat. Just as we thought things couldn’t get any worse we read that an indigenous band was permitted to shoot several elk, deer and sheep. Allowing people to hunt in a national park is unacceptable. As Canadian citizens, First Nations should have equal rights, not special priviliges.

Finally, there are two more things I have to get off my chest. First of all I don’t understand why speed limits are not enforced on the Yellowhead Highway. Now many people, especially truck drivers, seem to think the road is a racetrack for amateurs. And there’s another thing that worries me. Why are there no buffer zones around the national parks? Once bears, cougars or wolves cross park boundaries, they run the risk of being caught in a trap or snare. These animals are meant to be viewed by nature lovers, not to be killed by trappers. I expect Parka Canada to ensure that buffer zones will be implemented in the immediate future.

It’s so sad and heartbreaking to witness the decline of these magnificent Canadian mountain parks and I’m convinced that the majority of visitors prefer an unspoilt, pristine wilderness to an amusement park for tourists.

Kees Kunst.

The Netherlands.

Simpcw chief responds to backlash after hunt in Jasper National Park

Updated October 12, 2017

by Evan Matthews | reporter@fitzhugh.ca

Simpcw First Nation Chief Nathan Matthew credited Parks Canada and Jasper residents for their reconciliation efforts with one of the region’s bands of indigenous peoples.

The Fitzhugh’s online story prior to the Simpcw’s hunt had over 100 shares and 200 engagements on Facebook. Much of the engagement had negative perception of the hunt, and took aim at Parks Canada for allowing it.

“We don’t want to be confrontational… This is a good demonstration of how to do (reconciliation) in a respectful way,” Chief Matthew told the Fitzhugh on Tuesday.

He said the Simpcw and Parks took time to find a sufficient level of agreement on the hunt’s time, location, species to be hunted and by what means.

“It’s an exercise of a constitutionally protected right. If we don’t exercise our rights, we might lose them,” he says, adding community hunts are common throughout the region, mentioning one had taken place in neighbouring Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Though bowhunters were present on the Jasper hunt, Chief Matthew confirmed the Simpcw used rifles, too.

“We use most of the animal, and use it for community purposes,” he says.

Many critics on social media took issue with the definition of traditional, saying that traditionally, indigenous peoples wouldn’t have been using rifles and modern tools.

However, Chief Matthew says despite using modern tools, community hunts are opportunities to educate the community’s youth on traditional Simpcw ways of life.

“We had a couple of youths, who have now killed a couple of animals. It’s very positive,” says Chief Matthew.

“A community (or traditional) hunt is planned by band members, it’s not just one or two people deciding to go for a hunt on a random day. It’s organized and coordinated for a number of people together.”  He said nine people went on the hunt plus another half dozen for moral support.

Parks Canada originally closed the Snaring River area from Oct. 6 – 13 to allow the Simpcw to hold a traditional harvest. Chief Matthew says the week-long window was simply to avoid complications due to weather, but the hunt is now over.

The hunters, travelling on foot, harvested a total of three elk, two bighorn sheep and one white-tailed deer.

“Harvest rates will be kept within a sustainable level based on park surveys of the species, and will not have an impact on the sustainability of the wildlife populations in Jasper National Park,” Steve Young, public relations and communications officer for JNP, said in a press release issued last week.

The Simpcw had been communicating with Parks for a number of years regarding their wish to hold a traditional harvest on their traditionally used lands within the Jasper National Park (JNP) boundaries, according to Young. The federal government is committed to nation-to-nation reconciliation, he said.

Out of respect for other First Nations, Chief Matthew says the Simpcw won’t be back to Jasper for some time, as “it’s other people’s turn next.”

“This was simply re-acquainting ourselves to our traditional territory,” says Chief Matthew.

“We see it, broadly speaking, as reconciling relationships with non-Simpcw people and governments, so we feel better about ourselves and know our rights are real.”

Indigenous peoples all across the country conduct traditional harvesting for fishing, hunting and plant collection, including inside some of the country’s national parks, according to Parks.

Back in August of 2016, the Simpcw First Nation held a symbolic return to Téte Jaune Cache — some 100 kilometres west of JNP — 100 years after the Simpcw peoples’ forced removal from Tête Jaune to the band’s current reserve, Chu Chua.

Chu Chua is located near Kamloops, British Columbia, and is roughly 243 kilometres southwest of Tête Jaune.

Local Simpcw storytellers and archives estimate between 60 and 70 Simpcw people were forced from Tête Jaune, with some renditions of the story saying the trek took long enough for a full change in season, with the Simpcw leaving Tête Jaune in the fall and arriving in Chu Chua in winter.

Soon after and to make matters worse, the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 ravaged the Simpcw community, killing many of the northern people who had so recently arrived at Chu Chua, according to Simpcw archives.

Evan Matthews – Fitzhugh

Indigenous hunt in Jasper National Park

Updated October 8, 2017

stag silhouette

October 7, 2017

An Indigenous community from central British Columbia is in Jasper National Park to hunt deer, sheep and elk, causing the temporary closure of the area to the public.

“We’re determined to exercise our title and right within our territory,” said Simpcw First Nation Chief Nathan Matthew on Friday.

Nine hunters will pursue mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep and elk in an area east of Snaring River, north of Highway 16 and the Athabasca River. A handful of other people will provide support during the hunt, Oct. 6 to 13.

Matthew explained community hunts are an integral part of Indigenous culture.

“We wanted to re-establish our presence in various ways in Jasper National Park,” he said. “It’s on the eastern side of our territory.”

Simpcw First Nation is located in central British Columbia, nearly 400 kilometres southwest of Jasper townsite.

Matthew said the hunt was carefully planned. The hunters are permitted to harvest a maximum of 10 animals, based on park surveys of the species.

“We’ve definitely kept away from caribou … which are endangered everywhere,” he said. “We take the information we receive from Jasper National Park biologists respecting conservation concerns they have for any populations.”

Several other Indigenous groups were consulted supported the hunt, said Steve Young, spokesman for Jasper National Park.

“The Simpcw First Nation has been communicating with Parks Canada for a number of years on their wish to hold a traditional harvest on their traditionally used lands within the boundaries of Jasper National Park,” he said in a statement Friday.

“Conservation and public safety are shared priorities for Parks Canada and the Simpcw First Nation … mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep and elk may be harvested. Harvest rates will be kept within a sustainable level … and will not have an impact on the sustainability of the wildlife populations in Jasper National Park.”

Jasper National Park was formed in 1907, one of several mountain national parks created between 1885 and 1914. The legislation and management of Canada’s parks failed to consider Indigenous traditions at the time.

The hunt — which both Matthew and Young emphasized is a key part of reconciliation efforts — is governed under a written agreement with the parks authority.

“When we first proposed it … there was a little bit of surprise and maybe concern,” Matthew noted. “We had to have conversations about the nature of our rights.”

Clare Clancy – Edmonton Journal

Area closure notice

Area closure notice

map of area closure

Grizzly habitat is no place for a bike trail

Updated July 27, 2017

Relevant quotes from Parks Canada sources and grizzly experts

The strategy of the Jasper National Park Management Plan involves:”maintaining or improving habitat security for grizzly bears” (Executive Summary JNP Management Plan p10)

“Habitat is considered secure when there is little likelihood grizzly bears will encounter people” (JNP Management Plan 4.4.1)

“Human/wildlife conflict will arise, trail goes through high value habitat” (Parks Canada Icefields-Trail Steering Committee October 13, 2016)

“There are significant human safety concerns as well as a variety of potential impacts to bears and their habitat associated with a multi-use pathway through occupied grizzly bear country.” (Grant MacHutchon: expert in bear/human interaction)

”Human activities that affect the ability of bears to feed on important food sources, especially reproductive female bears in the late summer and fall, potentially could have adverse effects on reproductive output of a population” (Grant MacHutchon)

“On certain types of trails (e.g. flat, moderate downhill, smooth surface), the typical cyclist can travel at higher speeds that increase the likelihood of a sudden encounter.” (Stephen Herrero, grizzly specialist)

“There is a long record of human-bear conflicts associated with mountain biking in bear habitat including the serious injuries and deaths suffered by bike riders. Both grizzly bears and black bears have been involved in these conflicts with mountain bikers.” (From the Board of Review report on the death of a mountain-biker in Montana)

Jasper Environmental Association  July 2017

—-

Paving Paradise: the proposed Jasper-Icefields bike trail

Parks Canada has proposed a 107km-long, paved, multi-use trail to be built parallel to the Parkway from Jasper to the Icefields

The Jasper Environmental Association supports activities like cycling and hiking in the park but the infrastructure to support them needs to be appropriate and sustainable for the goals of the National Park

The Trail will run 20 to 30m from the Parkway through important Grizzly habitat, critical Woodland Caribou habitat and a sensitive Mountain Goat mineral lick

Grizzly and Black Bears will feed in the space between the Trail and the Parkway creating a hazard for bears and bikers. Parks plans to clear the berry bushes to discourage bears from feeding there, but berries are only a part of their diet

Thousands of trees will be logged as Parks clears an 8m-wide strip to the Icefields, eliminating the equivalent of 142 football fields of critical valley-bottom wildlife habitat.

Parks Canada proposes to use 16.3km of the old, decommissioned Parkway. Yet 6.4km of this is Zone 2 Wilderness that should not be disturbed. It is now overgrown and used as a safe corridor by wildlife to avoid the Icefields Parkway

More than 30,000 truckloads of gravel will be mined from park gravel pits. This will destroy more of the Park, spread weeds along the trail and entail the use of herbicides

The cost to Canadian taxpayers will be at least $86,000,000. And this is not the final bill – Parks Canada has not calculated the need for picnic areas, larger campgrounds, kiosks, access roads, parking lots and annual maintenance

‘Target audiences’ for this trail through remote Grizzly habitat include ‘families, new Canadians trying out new activities and urban youth’. Is that safe?

The trail will adversely affect the magnificent views of wilderness and the opportunities to view wildlife for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who drive this famous highway through a World Heritage Site

In our view, the Icefields Parkway with its wide shoulder is one of the safest highways in Canada for biking. In its 58-year history there has been just one unfortunate bike/vehicle fatality. A wide, well-maintained shoulder also meets current demand at a fraction of the cost and without endangering visitors or wildlife.

Jasper Environmental Association  July, 2017

 

Caribou spotted on Highway 93 north

Updated May 19, 2017

 

AB-JAS-2014-Male-Caribou-2-Parks-Canada-Rogier-Gruys

Male caribou – Image by Rogier Gruys, Parks Canada

From the Jasper Fitzhugh, May 18 2017

Slow down… Caribou spotted on Highway 93

Parks Canada is urging drivers to slow down when driving on Highway 93 after a woodland caribou was seen just north of the Sunwapta Warden Station last week.

According to Parks, it is not unusual for woodland caribou, a species at risk, to be found on or near the highway between Sunwapta Falls and the Beauty Creek Hostel at this time of year.

Caribou found in the valley along Highway 93 are part of the Brazeau herd, one of four herds in the park. There are only approximately 10 – 15 animals left in this herd and a reduced speed zone has been implemented to help prevent the unnecessary loss of caribou through vehicle collisions.

Jasper National Park has four main herds. The northern A la Peche herd, estimated at less than 100 animals, spends most of its time outside the national park. In recent years, surveys suggest the A la Peche population is declining.

Three additional herds of caribou are found in the southern part of Jasper, spending most, if not all of their time within the national park. The three herds use distinct regions of the park and rarely interact.

In total, their numbers are estimated at approximately 55 animals and have been declining. The largest herd in south Jasper is the Tonquin herd with 38. The Maligne herd is estimated to have less than 10 animals.

(Note from JEA: The Brazeau herd, currently listed as threatened but considered endangered in the most recent assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, stands to be negatively affected by the proposed bike trail from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield)

Lobbying group behind mysterious Icefields Trail website

Updated May 4, 2017

A screen shot of the website in question.

A screen shot of the website in question.

Paul Clarke for the Fitzhugh, April 27, 2017

A federally registered lobbying organization with ties to some of the biggest businesses and organizations in Banff National Park recently launched a slick new website in support of the proposed Icefields Trail project.

The website claims to be backed by a group called the “Icefields Trail North Support Coalition,” however the Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association (BLLHA) confirmed it is behind the website.

The BLLHA is a federally registered lobbying organization with 76 regular members and 31 associate members including hotels, restaurants and commercial operators in Banff National Park.

In a background document provided to the media, but not available online, BLLHA states the coalition includes seven members including Tourism Jasper, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment, Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, the Tour of Alberta and the Canada West Ski Areas Association as well as BLLHA.

None of this information is available on the website.

According to BLLHA, the coalition is a collaborative communication effort of tourism partners/associations, user groups and recreational enthusiasts aimed at ensuring Canadians are aware of and have an opportunity to lend their voice to the proposed project.

“Given that some individuals and organizations have come out to publicly oppose the Icefields Trail project, the coalition believes it is important that there is a voice for those who support the project,” the background document states.

“The coalition’s aim is simple: to help engage Canadians to become familiar with and ‘support’ the Icefields Trail project by amplifying the message and project details as presented by Parks Canada.”

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) , which is also a federally registered lobbying organization, said people should be aware that the website is coming from a group that has an agenda.

“I would like to see more information about who is creating this website,” said Alison Ronson, executive director of the northern Alberta chapter of CPAWS.

“My feeling about this website is that they are putting it forward as though it is a great thing for all Canadians without disclosing the fact that they actually work for a minority of private interests.”

She acknowledged CPAWS has its own agenda, which is to protect Canada’s national parks for both current and future generations, but said her organization is open and transparent about their activities.

“We make sure all of our public information links back to CPAW’s website and our mission, vision and mandate,” said Ronson.

The website in question includes links to contact the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and the CEO of Parks Canada Daniel Watson. There is also a link to complete Parks Canada’s public consultation survey, which ended on April 24.

Scrolling through the website users can also find background information about the project as well as a “fact-checker” countering CPAWS’ statements about the trail.

“All of the information is true, but I don’t necessarily think it’s informing the Canadian public 100 per cent about the impacts of this trail,” Ronson said about the website.

“In fact they state several times that it is ‘environmentally friendly’ but to flat out call it environmentally friendly before the detailed impact assessment comes out is misleading.”

She also said it fails to mention that the trail would go through an important wildlife corridor.

“There is a limited number of valleys in the Rocky Mountain national parks that allow wildlife to actually move through the parks, a lot of our parks are high alpine environment, so even though this trail might take a way a small portion of our parks overall it’s still going to have a very high impact on ecological integrity.”

The website states 99.99 per cent of Jasper National Park will not be affected by the proposed trail and that it will run parallel to the Icefields Parkway making use of existing disturbed areas to mitigate environmental impacts.

On April 4, Darren Reeder, the executive director of BLLHA and a registered lobbyist, sent a letter in support of the Icefields Trail to the minister.

The five-page letter explains why the minister should approve the trail and includes legislative context.

“In principle this project is consistent with our national park’s objectives for environmental protection while promoting the health and well-being of residents and tourists within both Banff and Jasper,” the letter states.

Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers, the press secretary for the minister, said the proposed Icefields Trail is currently in the conceptual phase and no decisions have been made.

“Strict development limits are in place to ensure the protection of ecological integrity in Canada’s national parks. Parks Canada remains committed to rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with these limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained.”

Lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity which is regulated by the Lobbying Act.