Parks Canada has come under fire in a new report from the Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society (CPAW).
The report suggests Parks Canada has been choosing revenue and tourism over conservation, sounding the alarm on Canada's national parks long term health.
Anne-Marie Syslak, Executive Director for CPAWS Southern Alberta Chapter, says Parks Canada needs to re-focus its legal obligation of conservation.
"By both policy and law, the Parks Canada agency is supposed to manage them with nature first. Parks Canada's own reports show that many of the park ecosystems are in decline. Instead of bolstering conservation staff and science funding, these areas have been drastically reduced within the park's budget."
Over the past five years, there has been an over 30 per cent decrease in Park's Canada's conservation staffing.
Syslak explains development in national parks is a main concern, especially in the Bow Valley.
"There's been many studies in the Bow Valley that have repeatedly shown that we cannot sustain more development. That's why the laws were put in place to put conservation first in the management of these parks."
A recent development approval includes an expansion of the Lake Louise Ski Resort in Banff into legally protected wilderness, which is against Park's Canada's own policy.
"Parks Canada, in many circumstances that we've seen over the past little while, they've actually gone against their own policies. They're contravening policies that are meant to protect these areas."
Other developments include commercial accommodations proposed for Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park that contravene the management plan; and a $66 million paved bike path through sensitive caribou and grizzly bear habitat which "mysteriously appeared in the 2016 Federal Budget with no prior public discussion or environmental review."
CPAW has submitted a report of 17 recommendations to Parks Canada, Syslak says there three main suggestions.
Limiting development: "We want to have an immediate stop to the development footprint in Banff and Jasper National Parks. This is where we're seeing the most pressure, but it's not just in these regions, it's across the country."
Re-focusing on ecological integrity and funding for science: " The State of the Parks Report, which shows how they're doing in terms of the health of the ecosystem, has essentially disappeared. The last one that was done system wide for Parks Canada was in 2011, and that's something we need to bring back."
Open, transparent decision-making: "We've been seeing years of closed, behind the scenes dealings to negotiate some of these developments that Canadians haven't been a part of. By the time they come to the table for public consultations they're essentially a done deal."
Syslak adds this report does not mean CPAW is against tourism or people going into parks, they would just like to see more accountability for Parks Canada.
Parks Canada released a statement responding to the CPAW report, below is an excerpt.
"...It should be noted that strict development limits are in place to protect the ecological integrity of national parks. Parks Canada remains committed to a rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with these limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained. Additionally, any development in national parks is managed through consultation with the public and stakeholders, and planning that is informed by science.
For example, the Banff and Jasper national parks welcomed over 6 million visitors combined last year, yet over 96% and 97% of these parks respectively are declared wilderness areas with strong limits on development and use. Of the 46 national parks, 17 have no major development and of those that have some level of development, 90% of the land within these parks is in a natural state..."