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National parks in 'crisis' caused by development, says parks group

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2015-09-10 Colette Derworiz
CAL1202-mkLakeLouise1 © Archive CAL1202-mkLakeLouise1

A new report says there’s a crisis in Canada’s national parks, calling on Canadians to stand up against commercial development such as the expansion plan at Lake Louise ski area in Banff and the proposed Maligne Lake resort in Jasper.

The report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, released Thursday in Calgary, suggests national parks are under growing threat.

“Canada’s national parks are part of the heart and soul of this country,” said Alison Woodley, national director of CPAWS parks program. “They are our natural treasures and they belong to each and every one of us as Canadians, but private commercial development is putting our most special protected areas at risk.

“There’s a crisis in our national parks.”

The report highlights the Glacier Skywalk and proposed Maligne Lake development in Jasper National Park and the rushed approval of the site guidelines of the Lake Louise ski area, which will allow the resort to go ahead with expansion plans in Banff National Park.

No one from Parks Canada could immediately be reached for comment, but officials have previously said they are working to find a balance between ecological integrity and visitor experience.

The Lake Louise site guidelines reduce ski area’s leasehold by 669 hectares, returning undeveloped land to wilderness. In exchange, Lake Louise would have an option to develop in areas such as West Bowl, Hidden Bowl, Richardson’s Ridge and West Juniper under a licence of occupation.

It would mean more development and ultimately allow Lake Louise to accommodate up to 11,500 visitors daily — almost double its current occupancy.

Anne-Marie Syslak, executive director of the southern Alberta chapter of CPAWS, said the rushed approval of the site guidelines right before the federal election call was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The expansion, she said, allows the ski area to build in untouched, protected wilderness in Banff National Park.

“Despite a three-week comment period over the summer, over 1,200 people responded and, out of those, over 90 per cent of people opposed this commercial development.”

It included 11 former Parks Canada managers, who sent a letter to the federal government asking it to stand up for the ecological integrity of Banff National Park and reconsider the expansion of the ski area.

Syslak said they are starting to see similar pressures outside of Banff and Jasper, pointing to the seven-storey high Mother Canada statue in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

CPAWS is calling on all of the federal election candidates to commit to stopping commercial development in the national parks.

“Once they are gone, we cannot get them back,” she said. “These are our parks, they belong to every single Canadian.

“It’s time to stand up to protect them.”

More to come …

cderworiz@calgaryherald.com

Twitter: cderworiz

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