Jasper’s Great Tourism vs. Wildlife Debate

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Wilderness tourism is a fickle thing.

The more that tourists flock towards wilderness, the less wilderness there is to experience—it’s a classic Catch 22 situation. It’s not easy to provide all the services and amenities that will keep visitors happy (and, consequently, spending money) without disrupting local ecosystems in the process.

Sustainability is an age-old problem for any area that relies on wilderness tourism, ecotourism, or any other mash up of tourism + nature—and one that Parks Canada has been trying to grapple with in recent years, as demographics shift and the “visitor experience” becomes an increasingly high priority item.

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It’s also the issue at the heart of some major shifts happening right now in Jasper National Park.

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Jasper’s Maligne Lake is the stuff of a postcard collector’s dreams: the impossibly still water, the majestic peaks of the Canadian Rockies towering in the background, and the serene wooded shores inspire roughly 2,000 tourists to explore the area every day throughout high season.

On the shores of Maligne Lake is an old-school day lodge run by a company called Maligne Tours, which also offers boat excursions around the lake. Concerned by dwindling visitor numbers – yet encouraged by Parks Canada’s shift towards improving the visitor experience– Maligne Tours spotted an opportunity for change.

It was back in 2012 that they first presented their grandiose plan: build a 66-room luxury lakeside hotel, and more tourists will come. The hotel was just one of 14 proposals put forth to Parks Canada by Maligne Tours.

It turns out that the public had a different opinion on the subject: protestors presented their case onsite and former senior Parks Canada staff voiced their opposition to the plan, calling to attention the significant negative impact such a project would have on local wildlife—including some threatened and endangered species.

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Photo Courtesy of Jasper Environmental Association

The grizzlies, caribou, and other local critters can breathe a sigh of relief—kind of. In late July, Parks Canada officially gave the luxury hotel project a red light, but okayed other aspects of the proposal, including 15 new tent cabins, an expansion of commercial operations, and the addition of interpretive activities like a thatched-wall exploratory maze.

On the surface, this might seem like a win for Mother Nature, but there are deeper implications behind the decision. The parts of the project that were approved require that Parks Canada amend its management plan, which could allow for additional future development at Maligne Lake and elsewhere.

There are still a few hoops to jump through before Maligne Tours can start construction, including a public feedback phase. If you’ve got an opinion, this is definitely the time to share it: contact Jasper National Park at [email protected] to tell them what you think.

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