Ecojustice lawyers in court tomorrow to stop further commercial encroachment in Jasper National Park

Canada is renowned for its exceptionally beautiful natural spaces. Beginning in 1885 with Banff National Park, nearly 50 national parks have been established in Canada, each one filled with a diverse range of wildlife and terrain. Unfortunately, commercial pressures are increasingly transforming the natural state of our parks into profit-driven tourist sites — look no further than the paid Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park.

The government agency in charge of protecting our national parks, Parks Canada, has been an exemplar of strong parks protection, but in more recent years, concerns have been raised as to whether it is living up its primary responsibility: to protect the ecological integrity of Canada’s national parks for present and future generations. As a result, commercial interests have been slowly encroaching on Canada’s national parks, and alarm bells are now ringing for more than a few Canadians.

A concept approval for more overnight accommodations at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park is one such example. Still in pre-construction, the plan would allow a tourism company to construct up to 15 tent cabins equipped with electric power and propane heating, which would further disturb natural spaces meant to be protected.

All this is happening despite it being directly contrary to the 2010 Management Plan for Jasper National Park. As it stands now, the Parks Canada-led plan explicitly prohibits the release of new land for overnight commercial accommodations outside of the Jasper town site — meaning the tent cabin proposal should not have been given the go-ahead at all. But, in order to accommodate the construction of these tent cabins, Parks Canada intends to change the management plan. Management plans should set out strong protections for ecosystems in Canada’s national parks — they shouldn’t be changed on a whim to accommodate for commercial interests.

That’s why Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Jasper Environmental Association, are heading to Federal Court to seek an order to quash Parks Canada’s concept approval of the Maligne Lakes tent cabin proposal and stop further commercial encroachment on Canada’s national parks.

Jasper National Park is not the only park facing commercial pressures. Parks Canada has approved developments in several other national parks, including Banff National Park. In August 2015, despite protest from several former Parks Canada managers, the agency approved expansion plans for the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The plan would double the ski hill’s current capacity from 6,000 to 11,500 visitors a day, but will also disturb important grizzly bear habitat and change the topography of the park

The outcome of the Maligne Lake case will have important implications for the future of parks protection in Canada. If Parks Canada’s concept approval is allowed to stand, it will add to the troubling precedent being set in other parks in which commercial interests are permitted to trump those of nature. It could also open the floodgates to commercial development in national parks across Canada. After all, if a park management plan can be changed to accommodate one project, what is stopping Parks Canada from changing other management plans to facilitate more commercial development?

We will not stand by and allow commercial interests to dictate what happens in our national parks. The national parks system is crucial to protecting Canada’s unique biodiversity and natural legacy, and essential to our national identity and cultural heritage. Ensuring the public can experience Canada’s national parks is important, but in the process, we cannot lose sight of the reasons why they are protected by law.

Photo by Thomas Hartmann Via Wikimedia Commons

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