BANFF – All ideas were on the table during a two-day public forum designed to shape the future of Banff National Park.
The aim of the public forum held on Feb. 19 and 20 was to update the park’s management plan, which is set to expire at the end of 2019.
“This is not the time to be shy … this is not the time to be passive or cynical about process. This is the time to help us sculpt, describe and shape the next steps for Banff’s future,” said Sheila Luey, acting field unit superintendent for Banff National Park.
“These are decisive times and we know that the next decade will be challenging for us, so we will really need your help to get it right.”
When the new management plan is complete it will become the guiding policy for Banff National Park until 2030.
“Park management plans are very high level documents that provide policy guidance to us in almost every respect of our park management,” said Luey, explaining they are required by law and must be reviewed every five years.
“Parks management plans are more strategic than they are operational documents; they guide our decision making and I will say there is probably not a day that goes by where I don’t consult the park management plan in trying to make a decision.”
To help Parks begin drafting the new plan, the forum included a round table advisory group from a broad range of sectors, including six First Nations, several hospitality and tourism organizations, environmental groups, recreational organizations and various government bodies.
“The general approach to building a park management plan is that we don’t start over with a blank slate each and every time if we don’t have to,” said Luey. “We look at what’s working in the last plan and we carry it over into the next one.”
That being said, she stressed they try to remain as open as possible to new ideas.
“No decisions have been made,” said Luey. “We have not put any pen to any piece of paper – I promise you.”
As part of the 10-year planning cycle, Parks Canada publishes a state of the park assessment report approximately two years before the management report expires.
The state of the park report helps identify and evaluate the condition of the park’s ecological integrity, cultural resources, visitor experience, built assets, as well as the park’s Indigenous and external relationships.
The report also helps to identify key management issues for the next park management plan.
Published in 2018, the state of the park report identified four priority areas for Banff National Park, including aquatic biodiversity, climate change, managing increasing visitation and improving Indigenous relations.
Those four key issues will likely be important parts of the next management plan when it is finalized later this year.
According to the report, the park’s overall water quality is good, however poorly designed culverts and the historical stocking of non-native fish have hurt the park’s aquatic biodiversity and connectivity.
Parks Canada has made some progress on the issue, such as removing 40 Mile Dam and upgrading culverts, however more work still needs to be done.
“Fresh water habitats are one of the most impaired ecosystems in Banff National Park,” said Bill Hunt, Banff’s resource conservation manager.
“This is in part because of how these landscapes have been managed for a very long period of time.”
The report also highlighted the introduction of whirling disease into Alberta’s watersheds as a new threat to native fish species, as well as species at risk such as Westslope Cutthroat Trout.
Another major issue highlighted in the state of the park report was managing the increasing number of people who visit the park.
The report found visitation has largely been concentrated in key destinations in the park, such as Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon and some infrastructure/facilities were at or near capacity.
“Visitation has increased nearly 30 per cent in the last six years,” said Greg Danchuk, visitor experience manager for Banff National Park.
“In 2017 when Park admission was free, visitation to Banff National Park only increased by three per cent while across the country those increases were significantly much larger.”
Currently, he said visitation is down by 2.7 per cent to the end of January.
The report acknowledged that managing the impacts of increasing visitation will be critical to effectively manage the park in the future and may require additional or new approaches to address the challenge.
Climate change was another key issue cited in the 2018 state of the park report because it will have a broad reaching impact on the park’s biodiversity, habitats, species at risk, prevalence of parasites and disease, wildfire risk and persistence of non-native or invasive species.
It could also impact visitation levels and patterns of human use in the park.
The report found that current infrastructure, park capacity as well as management strategies and operations have not been evaluated taking climate change into account and may require different approaches in management and monitoring in order to adapt to the changing climate.
Improving Indigenous relationships was also a key priority highlighted in the report and will likely be a major component in the park’s new management plan.To have your say as Parks Canada prepares its new management plans for the mountain national parks visit www.letstalkmountainparks.ca