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Alberta is home to five National Parks: Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Wood Buffalo and Elk Island.

They include Canada’s first National Park (Banff, established in 1887), and also its largest (Wood Buffalo, at 44,807 km2). Together the five National Parks make up approximately 8.2 percent of Alberta’s land mass. National Parks are a critical component to the protected areas network in Alberta.

    • Introduction
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    National Parks

    National Parks Banner Photo

    “National Parks are maintained for all the people— for the ill, that they may be restored, for the well that they may be fortified and inspired by the sunshine, the fresh air, the beauty, and all the other healing, enobling and inspiring agencies of Nature. They exist in order that every Citizen of Canada may satisfy his craving for Nature and Nature’s beauty; that he may absorb the poise and restfulness of the forests; that he may steep his soul in the brilliance of the wild flowers and the sublimity of the mountain peaks; that he may develop in himself the buoyancy, the joy and the activity he sees in the wild animals; that he may stock his mind with the raw material of intelligent optimism,  great thoughts, noble ideals; that he may be made better, happier, and healthier.”
    J.B. Harkin, Canada’s first Commissioner of National Parks, 1957

    The National Parks are all on federal land, administered by Parks Canada. According to Parks Canada’s website,
    “Parks Canada is responsible for both protecting the ecosystems of these magnificent natural areas and managing them for visitors to understand, appreciate, and enjoy in a way that doesn’t compromise their integrity.”

    20070600_waterton13_hunger.jpg

    Waterton National Park (H. Unger)

    Parks Canada identify two roles for National Parks:

    • “National parks are established to protect and present outstanding representative examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena that occur in Canada’s 39 natural regions…National parks protect the habitats, wildlife and ecosystem diversity representative of – and sometime unique to – the natural regions.”
    • “National Parks are a country-wide system of representative natural areas of Canadian significance. By law, they are protected for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, while being maintained in an unimpaired state for future generations.”

    Parks Canada’s challenge is how to balance these two important, yet potentially conflicting elements of Park management – ecosystem protection and visitor enjoyment.

    Four of Alberta’s five National Parks are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, all in the 1980s (see Features).

    Banff

    The spectacular Banff National Park is one of the country’s most famous and best-loved National Parks. Established in 1887, it is Canada’s first National Park. At 6,641 km2 it protects three distinct Natural Regions – the alpine, subalpine, and the montane – each with its own distinct flora and fauna.

    20070900_bnp_peyto_lake_ndouglas.jpg

    Peyto Lake, Banff National Park (N. Douglas)

    In 1984, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, including Banff and Jasper in Alberta, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Jasper

    The 10,878km2 Jasper National Park was established in 1907.

    In 1984, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, including Banff and Jasper in Alberta, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    20070916_elkinathabasca01_jnp_cwearmouth

    Elk in the Athabasca River, August 2007. Photo Credit: C. Wearmouth

    Waterton Lakes

    Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada’s fourth National Park, was established in 1895. In 1932, it was joined with Glacier National Park in the U.S. to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, 1985.

    hikers2_castle_20070728_ndouglas.jpg

    Waterton National Park (N. Douglas)

    The 505 km2 National Park is popularly referred to as the place where “the Mountains Meet the Prairie.” No protected area of similar size in the Rocky Mountains has as much ecological diversity as Waterton Lakes National Park.

    Wood Buffalo

    Wood Buffalo National Park, at 44,807 km2 is Canada’s largest National Park. The Park is shared between Alberta and the Northwest Territories: 81 percent – or 36,330 km2 – is in Alberta; 19 percent – or 1,480 km2 – is in the Northwest Territories.

    2006_car5_lallen.jpg

    Wood Buffalo (L. Allen)

    Wood Buffalo is the world’s only natural nesting site of the endangered whooping crane and supports the largest free- roaming and self-regulated bison herd in the world. Another of the park’s attractions is the world’s largest inland delta, located at the mouth of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.

    Wood Buffalo National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

    Elk Island

    The 195 km2 Elk Island National Park was established in 1906. It protects the wilderness of the aspen parkland, one of the most endangered habitats in Canada.

    ElkIsland2001_JGeary.jpg

    Elk Island National Park (J. Geary)

    This oasis in a developed landscape is home to herds of free roaming plains bison, wood bison, moose, deer, and elk, and boasts over 250 species of birds.

    March 2017

    Parks Canada releases its plan for the Icefields Trail (North), a proposed cycling trail 20-30m parallel to the Icefields Parkway. A total of $87 million was earmarked in the federal budget and Parks Canada’s budget for the project. AWA and other environmental groups continue to oppose the project as proposed. Meanwhile, caribou populations in Jasper continue to decline.

    February

    In early February, a plains bison herd of 16 individuals is reintroduced to a “soft-release” pasture in Panther Valley in Banff National Park. The herd is expected to stay for 16 months and in the summer of 2018 released into a 1,200km2 area on the eastern edge of the park.

    January 2017

    The Minister’s Round Table is held across Canada. It is a consultation required every 2 years by the Parks Canada Agency Act. This year, on the 150th anniversary of Canada, Parks Canada chooses to invite all Canadians to weigh in through a forum called Let’s Talk Parks Canada.

    December 2016

    Lake Louise Ski Resort pleads not guilty to three charges laid for killing endangered Whitebark Pine on the ski resort in summer 2014.

    September 2016

    UNESCO goes on a reactive mission to Wood Buffalo National Park, to assess the state of conservation and threats to its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The mission will assess three major threats: current effects of Peace River flow due to W.A.C. Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon Dam; the cumulative effects of the Site C dam to the Peace-Athabasca Delta; impacts of planned and existing oil sands operations. The report will be released July 2017.

    Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announces that Canada’s mountain parks will remain publicly owned, reversing a 2012 decision to invite private-sector proposals to take over operations. According to a Calgary Herald article, “the three hot springs in the mountain parks attract over 800,000 visitors annually and generate enough revenue for Parks Canada to break even off their operation.”

    August 2016

    Another female wolf is slated to be euthanized in Banff National Park after becoming food conditioned and exhibiting aggressive behaviour in the Two Jack campsite. Including cubs killed by trains and food-conditioned wolves killed by Parks Canada, there are now 7 wolves killed from the Banff wolf pack this year.

    The Banff National Park fire team sends an update to stakeholders informing about Fall 2016 prescribed burns. There are six projects planned for Moose Meadows, Dormer Valley, Panther Valley, Harry’s Hill, Baker Creek, and Alexandra River Valley.

    July 2016

    Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) releases their annual Parks Report, which is critical of the Agency and calls for three commitments:

    1. limit development
    2. re-focus on ecological integrity and restoring science funding
    3. open, transparent decision-making

    The report finds conservation funding has shrunk 31% since 2012, while visitor experience program has grown by 9% even amidst an economic downturn. Conservation accounts for just 13% of the overall budget, less than half spent on visitor experience.

    June 2016

    AWA speaks out against the $66 million dollar bike trail in Jasper National Park. Conservation groups await an official announcement from Parks Canada, but more details emerge: the trail will eventually reach Lake Louise, it will utilize portions of the ‘old road’ (some of which is naturally restoring and will need to be re-paved) though the route hasn’t been decided, and the trail will be open in both summer and winter.

    May 2016

    Numerous environmental groups write to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, requesting information about the proposed $66 million dollar trail in Jasper National Park. The NDP Parks Critic, Wayne Stetski, questions the Minister in the House of Commons.

    February 2016

    Hon. Justice James Russell denies the July 2015 case for a judicial review in CPAWS v Maligne Tours.

    FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski, the governing body of the 2015 proposed NORAM cross-country ski competition) confirms that the 2015 event never took place, citing inadequacies in the course.

     December 2015

    Brewster buys Maligne Tours Ltd. – Viad (Brewster parent company) website touts benefits of this purchase to investors and shareholders.

    Parks Canada announces free admission to everyone in 2017 (to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday) with free admission to children continuing thereafter. Concerns about capacity in more popular parks (such as Banff and Jasper) and whether infrastructure will be able to cope with added numbers.

     November 2015

    Mandate letter to newly-elected federal Minister of Environment includes directive to investigate and address the increasing commercialization of National Parks.

     September 2015

    “Tour de Alberta” bicycle race is held with one leg running through Jasper, despite snow on the ground, local opposition, and the fact it is in the middle of elk rutting season.

     August 2015

    ENGOs CPAWS, Y2Y, Jasper Environmental Association, Fraser Headwaters Alliance and Bow Valley Naturalists and AWA jointly write a letter to Parks Canada regarding the Lake Louise Ski Area expansion, stating “we are aware that 1,100 of these comments opposed the proposal (which means over 90% of the feedback was negative).”

     July 2015

    Despite a three-week public consultation period registering over 1,200 comments, Site Guidelines for the Lake Louise Ski Area expansion are approved with no changes.

    CPAWS and Jasper Environmental Association take Parks Canada to court in Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society v Maligne Tours for their July 2014 decision to approve 12 of the 13 components of the Maligne Lake proposal, arguing that the decision contravenes the 2010 Jasper National Park Management Plan.

    Science and Resource Conservation Manager at Jasper National Park is suddenly fired with no warning and no reason given. In response, the Tonquin Caribou Risk Assessment Final Report is publically released, warning against implications of expanding Marmot Basin ski area developments into the Whistlers Creek drainage and other areas used as habitat by the threatened Tonquin woodland caribou herd. The report dates to March 2014 but was not initially made public.

     June 2015

    Parks Canada releases draft Site Guidelines for the Development and Use of the Lake Louise Ski Area in Banff National Park. AWA expresses major concerns, including expanded year-round capacity and misleading assertions regarding environmental benefits; failure of the draft Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to properly address habitat impact in the proposed development area; and impacts to water due to snowmaking and increased demand for potable water. The draft site guidelines are also strongly opposed by other parties including ENGOs and a group of 11 former officials and scientists from Parks Canada.

    “Gran Fondo” bicycle race initiated in Jasper National Park (a 2014 Gran Fondo in Banff had to be rerouted due to bears in the region), including a triathlon component. Organizers subsequently decide not to hold triathlon component in future years because of concerns regarding water temperature (lake is still partially frozen). Banff race does not make much money or bring in much tourism, and local small businesses are generally opposed.

     March 2015

    $6.4 million is allocated to a project to re-introduce “30 to 50” plains bison to a backcountry area of Banff National Park, across the border from the Panther Corners. The plan involves keeping them in a 425-square kilometer fenced off area, raising concerns about the appropriateness of fencing off areas of a national park.

     October 2014

    Calgary zoo withdraws from partnership with Parks Canada to raise and release caribou in the parks, citing lack of money from Parks Canada.

     July 2014

    Parks Canada rejects the Maligne Tours Ltd. proposal to build a 66-room luxury hotel, but approves the remaining 12 components of the proposal, including a conceptual approval for tent cabins.

     May 2014

    Glacier Discovery Walk opens. IUCN draft report indicates that the walk and presence of all-season skiing are major threats to the UNESCO site designation for the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks.

     January 2014

    A Basic Impact Analysis (BIA) is conducted for NORAM cross-country ski competition near Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The proposed project is a test race for a 2016 World Cup event. AWA will subsequently express its opposition to the race, supporting a letter sent by Bow Valley Naturalists to Parks Canada. A reply confirms no terrain alterations will occur should NORAM continue with the proposal, and that the event will comply with all stipulations in the BIA.

    JEA receives response to their Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request regarding Glacier Discovery Walk. Materials received indicate that no attention was paid to public participation, and that even those opposed to the plan within Parks Canada had no available recourse to put a halt to the project.

     October 2013

    Sunshine village re-submits (with minor alterations and environmental assessment including incorrect references) a 1990s-era proposal for a day lodge development at Goat’s Eye, near the midway point of the ski area gondola, despite the fact that the nearly-identical proposal had already been rejected the first time. ENGO community including AWA registers objection.

     Fall 2013

    Maligne Tours Ltd. submits a Concept Proposal for redevelopment at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, proposing a luxury hotel, tent cabins, and expanded retail, concession and tourism operations. This is in spite of the 2010 Jasper National Park Management Plan, which states that “no new land will be released for overnight commercial accommodation outside the community,” and despite the development site being adjacent to a zoned Environmentally Sensitive Site, in the middle of the range for the threatened Maligne woodland caribou herd. AWA strongly opposes the proposal, noting in a letter that at one consultation session, “Ninety minutes of questions and comments didn’t produce one comment in favour of the project – other than the architect who would be designing the accommodations.”

     May 2013

    The Long Range Plan for the Mount Norquay Ski Area is approved, allowing expanded summer and winter use, including the installation of via ferrata, and the widening of ski runs. This allows the ski area to break a 1996 promise not to expand summer operations in return for expanding ski facilities at that time. The plan is intended to be contingent on the inclusion expanded transit options; however this never comes to pass. AWA had also registered objection to the plan with Parks Canada on the grounds that the ski resort sits next to a wildlife corridor for grizzly bears and contains sensitive vegetation.

     April 2013

    Parks Canada implements a Restricted Activity Order prohibiting actions such as hang gliding and paragliding in Banff National Park.

     May 2012

    In swinging federal budget cuts, 138 Parks Canada employees in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Waterton Lakes national parks learn that their jobs are either “surplus” (positions that will be eliminated) or “affected”. In addition, 25 employees at the Parks Canada regional office in Calgary are also told they will lose their jobs.

     February 2012

    Despite enormous public opposition, the proposed “Glacier Discovery Walk” is approved by Parks Canada. More than 180,000 people sign a petition against the proposed development, but to no avail.

     December 2011

    After a long drawn-out stakeholder process, Parks Canada agrees to bring in new travel restrictions on Banff National Park’s Bow Valley Parkway. The traffic ban on the 17-kilometre stretch of highway will begin in 2013 and will apply from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. between March 1 and June 25 each year. AWA congratulates Parks Canada for putting the interests of wildlife first on this section of highway.

    Brewster proposes to build a “Glacier Discovery Walk”, a huge metal, glass and concrete structure, in Jasper National Park. Local residents and environmental organizations oppose this “crass commercialization” of the park.

    July 2010

    The final versions of the management plans are passed, and despite considerable public comment, there are only minimal changes to the original drafts.

     November 2009

    Draft management plans released for Banff, Jasper and Waterton, and made available for public comment. AWA and other conservation organizations express considerable apprehension at the proposed change in direction for the management of the parks. Whereas the legislated first priority for park management is ecological integrity, this draft plans place far more emphasis than ever before on maximizing the “visitor experience.”

     August 2008

    Jasper National Park State of the Park report released.

     2004

    Banff Management Plan amended to include Human Use Management Strategy.

     2001

    Canada National Parks Act states “maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.”

     May 2000

    Management Plans produced for Jasper and Waterton National Parks. State of the Park reports released for Banff and Waterton.

     1998

    Eleven years after the implementation of the Elk Island trumpeter swan reintroduction program, the first pair of reintroduced trumpeters successfully raise four cygnets, becoming the first breeding pair in the Park in over a century.

     1997

    Management Plan approved for Banff National Park.

     1996

    The Banff- Bow Valley Task Force produces its report, Banff-Bow Valley at the Crossroads. The report warns of the serious ecological threat posed by ever increasing visitation:

    • “(Recreation) is a role that will continue to have a place, an important place, in Banff National Park. But it cannot be allowed to put the Park’s ecological integrity at risk.”
    • “We must exercise the principles of precaution. If we are not sure a proposed development will preserve, or even enhance, ecological integrity, we must err on the side of caution.”
    • The report concludes with a stern warning: “We have called our report At the Crossroads. We mean this both as a warning and an opportunity. A warning that, if we continue along our present road, Banff cannot remain a national park. An opportunity to take a new road that will lead us to the desired Vision for the future. Make no mistake. This new path will not be easy. It will require courage, sacrifice, cooperation and political will – locally, provincially and federally. But the rewards will be great. As we enjoy the legacy given to us by past generations, so our children, and our children’s children, will live with the consequences of the road we choose today.”

     1990

    Town of Banff incorporated as an Alberta municipality, though still subject to the National Parks Act and its regulations.

     1988

    Management plans produced for the first time for Banff and Jasper National Parks.

     1987

    The Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada Agency, and the Friends of Elk Island initiate the Elk Island National Park Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program.

     1985

    Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

     1984

    The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, including Banff and Jasper  in Alberta, are declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

     1983

    Wood Buffalo National Park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

     1965

    23 wood bison from Nyarling River Area, Wood Buffalo National Park, introduced to Elk Island National Park.

     1957

    J.B. Harkin, Canada’s first Commissioner of National Parks, writes:
    “National Parks are maintained for all the people— for the ill, that they may be restored, for the well that they may be fortified and inspired by the sunshine, the fresh air, the beauty, and all the other healing, enobling and inspiring agencies of Nature. They exist in order that every Citizen of Canada may satisfy his craving for Nature and Nature’s beauty; that he may absorb the poise and restfulness of the forests; that he may steep his soul in the brilliance of the wild flowers and the sublimity of the mountain peaks; that he may develop in himself the buoyancy, the joy and the activity he sees in the wild animals; that he may stock his mind with the raw material of intelligent optimism,  great thoughts, noble ideals; that he may be made better, happier, and healthier.”

     1947

    Elk Island National Park expanded to include 60 km2 south of Highway 16, today known as the Wood Bison Area.

     1942

    Beaver reintroduced to Elk Island National Park.

     1932

    Waterton Lakes joins with Montana’s Glacier National Park to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a world first.

    1930

    The National Parks Act transfers the Kananaskis River watershed, parts of the Spray and Ghost River watersheds, and an angle between the Cline and Siffleur Rivers, out of Rocky Mountains Park to the province of Alberta. Rocky Mountains Park is renamed Banff National Park.

    Lands along the eastern border of Jasper Park from Rock Lake through Brûlé, and south through the heads of Prairie Creek and Gregg River are similarly transferred to the province. Jasper Park is renamed Jasper National Park.

    The Alberta Natural Resources Act increases the area of the Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve by transfers of land from parks, and the entire Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve is transferred to the Province of Alberta.

    1929

    All areas in Jasper Park south of the Brazeau River are transferred to Rocky Mountains Park. A further 267 km2 around Mount Malloch along the Clearwater River are added to Rocky Mountains Park. A small strip of land between the Brazeau and Southesk Rivers is also added to Jasper Park. Finally, Jasper Park’s northern boundary is adjusted to follow the height of land between watersheds, and a few lines-of-sight across valleys.

    1928

    The CNR main line east of Hinton is moved from the former Canadian Northern Railways line to the former Grand Trunk Pacific line. This frees up the former to be used as a road, providing easy road access to Jasper from Edmonton.

    1927

    Jasper Park is increased in area to the south, to include portions of the upper North Saskatchewan River watershed, including parts of Siffleur, Cline, Cataract and Brazeau River basins, as well as the Mistaya River to Bow Summit.

    1924

    The CNR eastern spur line to Pocahontas is abandoned and converted into a road.

    1923

    An Act to Amend the Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act increases the area of the Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve via the addition of 68 sections in township 41.

    Canadian National Railways (CNR) is created from the now-consolidated Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern Railways.

     1922

    Wood Buffalo National Park established “to protect the last remaining herds of bison in northern Canada.”

    Elk Island National Park expanded south to current day Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to reduce impact of overgrazing.

    1917

    Rocky Mountains Park is increased in area to include the Kananaskis and Spray river watersheds in the south and the upper reaches of the Red Deer River headwaters in the north, extending as far as the south bank of the Clearwater River.

    The Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern Railways are consolidated.

    1915

    Canadian Northern Railway is completed to Vancouver.

    1914

    Jasper Park is increased in area to include the entire upper Athabasca River watershed, so that it now extends from township 51 in the north to the Brazeau River in the south.

    Grand Trunk Pacific Railway is completed to Prince Rupert and Canadian Northern Western Railway is opened as far as Nordegg.

    1911-1913

    1911: Rocky Mountains Park is reduced in area to comprise only the Bow River watershed west of the Kananaskis River. Jasper Park is also reduced to a strip 10 miles wide along either side of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, starting at a point just east of Brûlé Lake. The railway is completed as far as the Jasper townsite, with passenger service starting in 1912.

    Land removed from the parks is assigned to Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve, which is further expanded in 1913.

    Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s Coal Branch is completed to Lovett in 1912, then extended to Cadomin and Mountain Park in 1913.

    With the opening of a refurbished Banff Coach Road, the 1905 ban is rescinded and automobiles are again allowed into Rocky Mountains Park.

    March 1913, Elk Island Park is formally designated as a Dominion Park.

    1910

    Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve is established.

    The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway is completed to Edson.

    1909

    Fencing completed in Elk Island National Park. 325 plains bison shipped in.

    1907

    Jasper Forest Park is established. The boundary is later clarified in 1909.

     1906

    July 1906. The Dominion Forest Reserve Act establishes the  42 km2 “Elk Park”.

    1905

    Automobiles are banned from Rocky Mountains Park, with a federal Order-in-Council proclaiming that: “the use of Automobiles of every kind be prohibited on any road or elsewhere within the limits of the Park.”

    1902

    Rocky Mountains Park is expanded to include Lake Louise Forest Park and all areas south of township 35 and west of range 7 (west of the 5th meridian).

    1899

    Elk Island area was officially designated as “The Cooking Lake Forest Reserve.”

     1895

    Waterton Lakes National Park established

    1892

    Lake Louise Forest Park is incorporated.

    1887

    The Rocky Mountains Park Act establishes Rocky Mountains Park, Canada’s first national park and the second in North America (after Yellowstone). The new park includes the Hot Springs Reserve.

    1885

    Hot Springs Reserve is incorporated at Banff.

    The Canadian Pacific Railway is completed to Vancouver.

    1883

    The Canadian Pacific Railway is opened to Kicking Horse Pass, providing easy access to the Banff area for the first time.

    In September 1883, local rancher, Fredrick William Godsal  writes to his friend William Pearce (Superintendent of Mines for Canada):

    “I believe that some years ago in an official report you recommended that the Crows Nest Pass, Kootenay or Waterton Lakes, etc., should be reserved as National Parks. I wish now in the strongest manner to urge upon the Government the adoption of this suggestion without delay.”

    June 9, 2017

    A Species At Risk Action Plan for Banff: AWA Encourages Moving at a Snail’s Pace

    Parks Canada’s proposed action plan for species at risk in Banff National Park fails to…

    Read more »

    May 8, 2017

    Ecological Integrity – Urge Parks Canada to Increase Its Commitment

    Ecological integrity – Section 8 (2) of the Canada National Parks Act clearly states that…

    Read more »

    April 7, 2017

    AWA Letter: Jasper Icefields Trail (North)

    April 7, 2017 Hon. Catherine McKenna Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada House of…

    Read more »

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