Unreleased report has concerns about ski development in Jasper National Park

Parks Canada has opened the door to ski hill expansion at one of its Rocky Mountain national parks despite its own research suggesting that further development would threaten a nearby caribou herd.

Parks Canada has opened the door to ski hill expansion at one of its Rocky Mountain national parks despite its own research suggesting that further development would threaten a nearby caribou herd.

A report on the Marmot Basin ski area in Jasper National Park was completed more than a year ago, but was never made public. Lead author Fiona Schmiegelow decided this month she would release the report herself to anyone who asked.

“I didn’t want to say to people, ’No, I can’t discuss this work,”’ said Schmiegelow, a University of Alberta biologist. “I felt it was time for the work to be made public.”

Schmiegelow was contracted by former Jasper conservation manager John Wilmshurst and the ski hill’s operators to study possible effects of expansion on the Tonquin caribou. The herd, under federal protection as a threatened species, lives in the park next to the resort and has seen its numbers drop to fewer than 50 animals from 111 in 2006.

Parks Canada is updating guidelines for ski hills in national parks. In an effort to cap commercial growth, resort operators have been asked to list projects they may at some point propose.

Marmot Basin has suggested returning some land to the park, while increasing ski runs and trails on unused areas. Parks Canada agreed in June 2014 that the ideas would be considered. The ski hill has not yet tabled any formal proposal.

Three months before the resort and the federal agency reached their agreement, Schmiegelow had concluded that not only would Marmot’s plans damage important caribou calving habitat, some of Parks Canada’s own planned trails and roads would be part of the problem.

“These are additional pressures on a population that already seems to be struggling,” Schmiegelow said. “If the primary mandate of the park is maintenance of ecological integrity, if conservation takes priority, we don’t want to be doing anything that exacerbates the present condition.”

Schmiegelow said she was warned the release of her report could be delayed as Parks Canada developed a response.

Six months turned to eight, then a year. Finally, when Wilmshurt was abruptly fired last June, Schmiegelow decided to act.

“That was the catalyst. I felt (the firing) might precipitate requests for information about the work and I was not prepared to not release it any further.”

Jasper’s acting conservation manager said the report is likely to be included in an overall package of information on plans for the area to be released this fall. Shawn Cardiff said the report contained “no surprises” for either Parks Canada or Marmot Basin.

Cardiff said no decisions have been made.

“That is the purpose of the report, to help us better understand what the potential implications are of some of the activities in the site guidelines. The ideas in the guidelines around lift development are subject to future decision-making.”

There are growing concerns about commercialization in national parks. But Cardiff said guidelines agreed to by Parks Canada and the resort are simply possibilities.

Stephen Woodley, a former Parks Canada chief scientist, said Schmiegelow’s research should be guiding development considerations, not commercial interests. Woodley was also critical of a similar agreement between Parks Canada and the Lake Louise ski area in Banff National Park.

“Caribou are in free fall throughout the mountain parks,” he said. “We can’t just keep chipping away.

“You have to take a big picture and Fiona’s study does that.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Still no mandatory masks in Red Deer

While a growing number of Alberta communities have made masks mandatory, the… Continue reading

Maskwacis teen charged in 10-year-old boy’s death

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

134 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday

First day over 100 cases since July 31

Red Deer asking for feedback on new transit routes

The new routes will begin Aug. 23

Rainbow flag raised at Red Deer College to kick off Pride Week

Central Alberta Pride Week runs next week

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

Red Sox Hold off Blue Jays with Moreland’s Bat and Bullpen

Red Sox Hold off Blue Jays with Moreland’s Bat and Bullpen

Coyotes advance with 4-3 overtime win over Predators

Coyotes advance with 4-3 overtime win over Predators

‘Caught up in the frenzy:’ Oilers 50/50 draw breaking ticket sale records

‘Caught up in the frenzy:’ Oilers 50/50 draw breaking ticket sale records

Nets, Magic grab last two NBA playoff spots in the East

Nets, Magic grab last two NBA playoff spots in the East

Li at his best and builds early lead at PGA Championship

Li at his best and builds early lead at PGA Championship

Swinging hard lifts Champ into contention in PGA

Swinging hard lifts Champ into contention in PGA

Big start, fast finish gives Lydia Ko the lead at Marathon

Big start, fast finish gives Lydia Ko the lead at Marathon

Most Read