Banff moves to quiet fireworks

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Loud fireworks are being replaced with special effect pyrotechnics for Banff’s Canada Day, Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations to lessen the stress on wildlife in Canada’s flagship national park.

The explosive noise from fireworks can cause fear, stress, disorientation and anxiety in wild animals and Parks Canada has anecdotally observed a range of effects on wildlife, from summer nesting birds to wintering elk already distressed by the fall rut.

Following a push from Bow Valley Naturalists to look at alternatives, Banff town council has unanimously decided to change to special effect pyrotechnics, commonly referred to as silent or quiet fireworks.

Officials say that relying on rich colours, commercial special effect pyrotechnics can forgo the big bang and still deliver a stunning show at the culmination of the three long-standing celebrations in Banff – all within the same $35,000 budget.

Mayor Karen Sorensen supported the change, saying this has been a long time coming.

“We can’t keep saying we’re a model environmental community and not walk the talk,” she said at a council meeting Monday (May 26). “I think this new practice will move us towards some of our environmental goals.”

Councillor Brian Standish also voiced support for the change, but was disappointed to see the traditional fireworks go.

“I’ll support the recommendation, but it’s just unfortunate the loss of commercial display fireworks is just another unfortunate consequence of living in a national park,” he said. “Personally, I’ll be sad to see them go.”

The noise of traditional fireworks is associated with the launch device that boosts rockets into the air. A secondary bang occurs in the longer range rockets used in Banff shows to lift them above roof and tree lines for community-wide viewing.

There will still be some noise with special effect pyrotechnics, but it will be more of a sizzle and pop as opposed to a loud bang. The display won’t be seen community-wide, but at the event itself.

Bow Valley Naturalists’ members are very pleased with council’s decision, noting quiet fireworks would be significantly better for wildlife while still providing opportunities for a unique community celebration.

“It’s long overdue and it sends a strong message of the town’s place in a national park,” said Reg Bunyan, vice-president of BVN and a retired Parks Canada resource conservation officer.

Bunyan said council has made great strides toward making Banff more environmentally friendly, noting Banff is an exemplary model community of recycling, solar use, water use, transit, urban vegetation management and waste treatment.

“These are important, measurable first steps, but not significantly different than other environmentally progressive communities,” he said, adding that not all ‘green steps’ are easily measured.

“As the death of grizzly bear 148 has highlighted, our collective impact on neighbouring wildlife can be subtle and challenging to measure, until it’s too late.”

Chad Townsend, the Town of Banff’s environmental manager, said he believes this a good alternative to the current fireworks shows.

“I think there’s recognition that there’s a need for a culmination to our town events, that people need to feel that it’s ended in a spectacular fashion and now’s the time to go home,” he said.

“We feel we can still pull off an effective culmination to an event, whether drummers, performers or these kind of fireworks, and visitors, at least on a local level, will still feel satisfied.”

Following the death of bear 148 last year, the Town of Banff joined a multi-jurisdictional wildlife co-existence community to work to better understand living with wildlife. A report to the communities is expected in spring.

“I’ve been involved in that and I think, seeing the work that’s happening there, this fireworks discussion just falls in that category,” said Sorensen.

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