Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Parks Canada is losing sight of its primary mandate to preserve nature, and this could have negative implications for the future of the Yukon’s national parks, says the local chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).
Though the federal agency is not developing new tourism infrastructure in Yukon national parks at the same rate as in Banff and Jasper national parks, “that tourism is being prioritized over wilderness protection is certainly troubling,” said Chris Rider, CPAWS Yukon’s executive director, in a statement released Monday.
Rider’s comments follow the release of the CPAWS report.
It criticized Parks Canada for shifting its focus away from preservation and toward increasing visitation through the development of “non-nature focused recreational activities,” such as the expansion of the Lake Louise ski resort in Banff National Park, which are putting Canadian parks at risk.
The report also admonished the federal agency for a lack of transparency in decision-making and for apparently letting slide its State of the Park reports, which are supposed to be made public every five years but have “virtually disappeared.”
As far as tourism infrastructure development goes, the concerning projects are happening primarily in Banff, Jasper and other parks in the South, said Jason LaChappelle, conservation programs and communications co-ordinator at CPAWS Yukon; the Yukon is safe, for now.
“Due to their remote access, pressures from visitation are not a current threat to national parks in the Yukon, and we are generally pleased with the direction that Parks Canada is taking in the territory,” Rider said in his statement.
Right now, CPAWS Yukon is “generally fine” with Parks Canada’s management of the Yukon’s national parks, and indeed, Kluane, Ivvavik and Vuntut national parks could sustain more visits from Yukoners and tourists, he said.
“Our main concern would be with the precipitous decline in funding for science and ecological monitoring,” he said.
“That could impact our parks in the future.”
The 2008 State of the Park report for Kluane (the most recent report that is publicly available) assessed the park’s biodiversity, the preservation of its ecosystems, public appreciation of the park and its management.
In 2008, the integrity of Kluane’s ecosystems were already in decline as a result of climate change, according to the Parks Canada report.
Glaciers were melting at a faster rate, southern mammals were migrating north and there was an “unprecedented” outbreak of spruce bark beetle.
“Continued monitoring is important and future adaptation may be necessary,” the 2008 report reads.
It is precisely this kind of monitoring that is slowing down at Parks Canada today, according to CPAWS.
Climate change is a “huge issue for the North,” LaChappelle said.
“Things are changing, and we need to monitor the situation. If you don’t monitor, you don’t know what’s going on.”
LaChappelle also noted that there has been a decline in the use of traditional knowledge to evaluate the conditions of national parks.
In the 2008 State of the Park report, it was noted that elders were concerned about how warmer winters they were experiencing would affect animals and the kokanee salmon in Kathleen Lake.
As part of celebrations for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, Parks Canada is making entry to all national parks free.
Overall, LaChappelle said, this is a good thing, because Canada’s parks deserve to be honoured and appreciated, but he hopes Parks Canada will properly plan for an influx of visitors.
What is happening in Banff and Jasper, he said, is that Parks Canada is turning these regions into “a vacation spot as opposed to a place where you go to interact with nature and appreciate unspoiled nature.”
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