Nearly a year before Parks Canada discovered endangered trees cut at ski resort

CALGARY — It was nearly a year before Parks Canada officials realized that a world-renowned Alberta ski resort had cut down a stand of endangered trees.

An agreed statement of facts filed in court Thursday says a trail crew, consisting of six employees including a supervisor, began maintenance in the summer of 2013 on Ptarmigan Ridge at the Lake Louise ski resort. The work involved cleaning up, repairing and erecting fences, and trimming and removing some trees.

The document says that in late September of that year, the workers cut down a number of trees, including endangered whitebark pine, without a permit.

The facts statement from federal prosecutor Erin Eacott and defence lawyer Alain Hepner says it wasn’t until Aug. 12, 2014, that Parks Canada and resort personnel were assessing the site for a new hiking trail when they discovered the endangered trees had been cut.

DNA analysis confirmed the trees were whitebark pine.

The matter was turned over to Parks Canada for an investigation and charges were laid.

The court document says Parks Canada had met with the resort just before the trees were cut down to discuss endangered species.

Lake Louise Ski Resort has entered guilty pleas to two charges: one under the Species At Risk Act and the other under the Canada National Parks Act.

The Crown has alleged in court that 39 of the whitebark pine trees were cut down, but the ski resort says the number has not been confirmed.

“This has not been validated and will be refuted by experts when this comes to the sentencing (hearing),” Dan Markham, communications director for the resort, said in an email Thursday.

Sentencing arguments in the case are scheduled for July.

The court document says Lake Louise was co-operative during the investigation and has taken steps to prevent similar occurrences. It says the resort has also spent money on initiatives related to the whitebark pine, including extensive mapping of that tree in the area.

Whitebark pine is threatened by invasive disease, fire and climate change. It is considered crucial because it provides food and habitat for animals and helps stabilize steep subalpine slopes.

The tree exists at high elevations in western North America at or close to the treeline. It has been growing on the continent for 100,000 years and can grow to be between 500 and 1,000 years old.

The maximum fine under the Species At Risk Act for each tree destroyed is $300,000. The maximum per tree is $250,000 under the national parks act.

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