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.