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Jasper National Park of Canada

Marmot Basin Ski Area Site Guidelines for Development and Use

Appendix 3: Strategic Environmental Assessment Summary
As part of the planning and development process for the ski area, Parks Canada, in collaboration with Marmot Basin, has prepared the Marmot Basin Site Guidelines . The guidelines describe possible development and use, set permanent limits to growth and provide direction for the foreseeable future.

Environmental considerations and a precautionary approach have shaped the Marmot Basin Site Guidelines . Parks Canada undertook a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to examine the implications of the guidelines and help decision-makers understand their potential consequences.

The strategic assessment is neither the first nor the last step in the environmental analysis of potential ski area development. It falls between strategic policy direction as established in the Ski Area Management Guidelines and subsequent assessments of specific project proposals brought forward as part of Long-Range Plans.

The SEA asked three main questions:

  • How will development allowed by the site guidelines affect the environment and the experience of visitors?
  • Do the guidelines respect legislation and policy that govern Parks Canada and Marmot Basin?
  • What are the potential cumulative effects -- locally and regionally?

An important step in a strategic environmental assessment is to consider alternatives. A number of development alternatives that could have been considered for Marmot Basin were rejected in advance as part of the development of the Ski Area Management Guidelines . These included on-hill accommodation, unrestricted year-round use, and unrestricted development within the leasehold. The SEA also considered potential exceptions to development restrictions as permitted by the Ski Area Management Guidelines .

Strategic Approach

The objective of the SEA was to examine the site guidelines and present information about how potential ski area development and activity carried out according to those guidelines would affect the ecology, culture and visitor experience in Jasper National Park of Canada. Legislation, policy and management plan direction was used to focus the SEA on the most important issues and to provide a benchmark against which the potential environmental impacts of the site guidelines were assessed.

The SEA did not attempt to identify or assess all potential environmental impacts arising from ski area development and use. Parks Canada, with the help of resource specialists, identified valued components that reflect key threats and issues related to ecological integrity, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity. The SEA relied on existing information and research. Information gaps were identified and future information requirements to be addressed in future Long-Range Plans and associated application of CEAA were noted.

Mitigating measures in the SEA take the form of ecological management parameters aimed at achieving expected outcomes associated with the key issues. Mitigations also take the form of planning, operational and knowledge requirements to be addressed in future Long-Range Plans and project design proposals. The SEA did not address mitigations related to specific development proposals or on-going operations. These will be evaluated separately through a combination of best management practices, an environmental management system and the environmental assessment of the Long-Range Plan as required by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Impact on Ecological Integrity

Marmot Basin sits in an alpine bowl high on the western slopes of the Athabasca Valley. A trip to the summit passes through all three of the park's major ecoregions - montane in the valley, forest in the subalpine, and the rock and ice of the alpine. At the regional scale, key threats to ecosystem integrity identified in the park management plan include habitat fragmentation and wildlife displacement, security of large ranging carnivores, and the viability of woodland caribou populations [a species listed as endangered under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) ]. Wildfire and watershed processes are key ecological factors also potentially affected by ski area development activities.

The following discussion summarizes the expected outcomes, management parameters and residual environmental effects - those remaining after the successful implementation of mitigation - on valued components as a result of all ski area development activities.

Vegetation, Terrain, Soils

Expected Ecological Outcomes

  • Sensitive vegetation and terrain features persist.
  • The pattern of vegetation is characteristic of the natural region.
  • Vegetation supports a range of native species.
  • Measures prevent the introduction and survival of non-native species.

Management Parameters: Vegetation, Terrain, Soil

  • Native species and communities dominate vegetation throughout the ski area.
  • Plant communities reflect regional and local diversity.
  • Glading and thinning simulate native vegetation succession and support the role of fire.
  • Native vegetation serves as an anchor against soil and terrain erosion.
  • Rare and sensitive vegetation communities and terrain features persist.
  • Habitat for rare and sensitive species is maintained.
  • The composition and structure of vegetation provide habitat for a range of native species.
  • Vegetation management and facility design support the restoration of fire as a natural process.
  • Construction and modification of vegetation and terrain do not alter natural flow rates or earth and rock flow features.
  • Construction, terrain modification, and vegetation removal avoid saturated soils or surficial deposits where mitigation is unlikely to be successful.

Native vegetation diversity -- The area's diverse, native vegetation anchors the soil and provides year-round forage for wildlife, including Mountain goats and Mountain caribou.

Already stressed at higher elevations by extreme conditions, vegetation suffers from development, operations and visitor use. The impact of construction and clearing is obvious. Less evident is the on-going physical damage to plant life from grooming and skiing.

Ski area development cannot take place without modifying vegetation; some impact on diversity is unavoidable. The mitigating measures ensure that, in spite of this impact, native vegetation diversity will continue to support local flora and fauna and reflect the patterns found in the region's other naturally fragmented areas.

An increase in the developed area affects less than .01% of the alpine and subalpine ecoregions in the park. Applying best management practices to construction and maintaining adequate snow cover will minimize long-term damage. By simulating natural patterns, glading will preserve vegetation that is typical of the region and serves as habitat for a variety of native species. The direct impact of a potential Knob Chairlift extension proposal is minimal; a potential new terrain park and mid-mountain reservoir in areas already modified have little potential to further affect vegetation diversity.

While it is clear that development will change the structure and composition of vegetation locally, the proposed mitigations are expected to preserve regional natural diversity and achieve the expected outcomes.

Small mammal habitat -- Mitigations are intended to support a range of wildlife species as consistent as possible with those found in naturally disturbed subalpine sites.

While potential ski area development is expected to affect wildlife that relies on forest cover, it may benefit species that prefer open habitats and mature forests.

Snow compaction as a result of grooming, vehicles and skiing will continue to have an impact on underlying vegetation and habitat. This is not expected to displace small mammals completely but it may affect their abundance and distribution.

Marmot Basin's leasehold represents a small proportion of the park's subalpine ecosites, and small mammals found at the ski area are neither threatened nor sensitive in a regional context.

As a precautionary measure, the guidelines apply conservative ski industry standards for run width, patch size and the pattern of terrain. This will prevent the exclusion of interior forest species from the leasehold. The identification and protection of sensitive sites and the maintenance of a range of species and habitats will be consistent with natural diversity.

The management parameters, combined with the successful implementation of mitigations, are expected to address potential cumulative effects and realize the expected ecological outcomes.

Rare and Sensitive Species -- Marmot Basin is home to a number of rare and sensitive plant species. Controls on the location and design of development will prevent any direct impact to sensitive sites as a result of construction or modifications. Protecting these sensitive sites will maintain the composition and diversity of vegetation that is characteristic of the natural region.

The design of a potential mid-mountain water reservoir, a water management strategy, and the environmental management system will combine to preserve seasonal flow and the natural function of sensitive riparian ecosystems.

A run improvement and vegetation management strategy will address the effect of the ski hill's operation on rare and sensitive species. The management parameters combined with the successful implementation of mitigations are expected to address potential cumulative effects and realize the expected ecological outcomes.

Fire - Fire is the most important of the natural disturbances that shape patterns of vegetation, the age of forests and wildlife habitat. In addition, wildfire helps control insect activity, an important consideration in western Canada where the mountain pine beetle is of particular concern.

Historically, frequent low intensity surface fires have burned in the montane and less frequent high intensity crown fires in the subalpine. To protect the ski area, Parks Canada suppresses fires within a 10-km radius of its boundary. Management parameters focus on restoring fire in the region and reducing the risks to the ski hill. The adoption of Firesmart principles may ease the need for regional fire suppression.

Simulating the historic forest mosaic will support ecosystems and habitat that are characteristic of the natural region. Coordinating fuel management and fire suppression with plans for run clearing, glading, snowmaking and water storage can address multiple ecological objectives.

While mitigations will not fully restore the role of fire, and fire suppression will still be necessary, the measures are expected to result in an improvement over the current situation.

The ski area will achieve the expected ecological outcomes locally and regionally by creating the necessary conditions to restore fire and by simulating some of the effects of fire within the leasehold.

Soils and terrain - The instability of certain features, valuable as examples of glacial and geological processes, make these areas unsuitable for construction. In addition, ecosystems that are frequently flooded or waterlogged are more prone to erosion. With proper mitigation, the disturbance of soil, glacial till and saturated soils is expected to be limited to the immediate area around specific projects.

Development is not expected to result in persistent erosion or mass wasting or to affect natural drainage and terrain flow. For the most part, disturbances are expected to be site-specific, limited in area, and reversible.

The long-range planning process will need to explore alternatives for the location of the upper terminal of the potential Knob Chairlift extension if it is advanced as a proposal in order to address issues associated with its effect on terrain. Some impacts related to a potential Knob Chairlift extension proposal may not be reversible. Grooming and skiing need careful management as vegetation reclamation may be difficult in the alpine.

Aquatics

Expected Outcome

  • Aquatic ecosystems function naturally.

Management Parameters: Aquatic

  • Development does not compromise natural surface and sub-surface connectivity and drainage.
  • Minimum in-stream flows support aquatic wildlife, taking seasonal variability into account.
  • Flooding and seasonal flow patterns maintain riparian vegetation.
  • Water quality in Portal Creek and the Athabasca River is maintained.

Water quality - Specific information about water quality in the ski area's streams is not available. Increases in ski area use may increase the volume of effluent, adding more nutrients downstream. Soil erosion may result in more sediment.

Mitigations are intended to keep the quality of water and wastewater within guidelines, to maintain or restore natural nutrient levels downstream, and to minimize the potential impact of hazardous materials and pollutants as a result of accidents or operation of the ski hill.

Effluent guidelines will set reasonable standards to safeguard ecological integrity and health. Water permits and an environmental management system to monitor water and wastewater will ensure compliance with relevant regulations. The use of eco-friendly products will minimize the potential for cumulative or accidental release of toxic materials.

Careful planning, product selection and monitoring will achieve the expected ecological outcomes for water quality.

Water flow - Basin Creek and Whistlers Creek are the two main streams in the area. Water for drinking and snowmaking comes from Basin Creek. Underground, streams shape vegetation in and near the leasehold. Excavation may release these hidden water sources, causing erosion, instability and unnaturally wet areas.

Management parameters require the ski hill to maintain and restore the natural variability in flow and to maintain minimum in-stream flows to support aquatic and riparian flora and fauna. The actual withdrawal of water is not expected to impair aquatic or riparian ecosystems.

Perhaps the most important impact of the operation of the ski hill is the diversion of water from Basin Creek, which could result in a shortage of water downstream. Collecting excess flow, trickle loading and water conservation may reduce the amount of water diverted from Basin Creek.

Water collection systems designed to allow natural variations in flow could largely mitigate the impact of water diversion, as will the identification and restoration of artificial drainage channels that currently divert water from the Basin Creek system.

Wildlife

Expected Outcomes

  • Sensitive wildlife is not habituated or displaced from habitat important to the regional population.
  • Wildlife mortality does not increase.
  • Species listed in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) are protected.

Management Parameters: Wildlife

  • The maximum run width is 50 m.
  • The existing "base area" clearing is limited to the current six hectares.
  • Additional clearing for specialized sites does not exceed 75m in width or three hectares in area.
  • On either side of runs, a strip of contiguous forest at least as wide as the run remains.
  • Forested areas between runs are irregular in shape and cover a minimum of eight hectares.
  • Additional vegetation clearing below Eagle Chalet, will ensure a minimum of 65% natural forest is retained.
  • Construction and the modification of vegetation and terrain does not impair habitat of importance to small mammals.
  • Summer activities such as construction and maintenance do not displace or habituate grizzly bears.
  • Development preserves natural food sources for grizzly bears and does not create non-native sources of food that would attract them.
  • Off-piste and out-of-bounds skiing do not displace caribou from habitat important to the regional population.
  • Development does not increase access for predators or the density of prey in important caribou habitat in and near the leasehold.
  • Modifications to vegetation and terrain do not affect the availability of caribou lichen outside the existing developed area.
  • Construction, modification of vegetation and terrain, visitor use and operational activities do not displace goats from local habitat essential to the regional population or from travel routes essential to the regional population.
  • Goat travel routes to the Whistlers Creek mineral lick are identified and protected.

Grizzly Bear -A species of special concern (SARA), grizzly bears are sensitive to disturbances. Grizzly bears have been seen on the lower ski runs, the access road, and near the sewage lagoon and lower Whistlers Creek. From late summer to fall, they are more common at higher elevations. Summer activities such as construction and maintenance could displace grizzly bears and give rise to conflicts. Mitigations focus on eliminating human/bear interactions that could lead to increased displacement, habituation, conflict and mortality. To comply with the ecological management parameters, potential development plans must consider food sources, movement patterns and potential den sites.

With these considerations in mind, development and summer maintenance are expected to have a minor additional impact on grizzly bears.

Mountain Caribou - Caribou populations throughout the Rocky Mountains are in decline. The southern mountain woodland caribou are listed as threatened in Canada (SARA). The potential reconfiguration of the leasehold in return for certain concessions would secure important caribou habitat. The potential Knob Chairlift extension may displace caribou by attracting skiers to off-piste and out-of-bounds areas. A decision regarding the potential consideration of potential development of the Tres Hombres and Outer Limits areas will follow the completion of a caribou risk assessment, which will provide objective, scientifically sound information. The potential development of the Rockgardens will have little impact on caribou or caribou habitat.

Mitigating measures focus on avoiding the displacement of caribou as a result of off-piste and out-of-bounds skiing and preventing easier access to key caribou habitat by predators. The potential reduction in the size of the leasehold offers greater certainty that the Whistlers Creek area will remain undeveloped, providing better long-term protection of ecological integrity in the area by enhancing the protection of valuable caribou habitat and an important goat mineral lick. This is considered a substantial environmental gain that will contribute meaningfully to Parks Canada's objective of maintaining or improving ecological integrity in Jasper National Park.

Greater certainty about the desired ecological outcomes for woodland caribou depends on the results of the caribou risk assessment. To achieve success, Marmot Basin will participate in the caribou risk assessment, and should work closely with the Woodland Caribou Southern Population Recovery Strategy and Jasper National Park.

Mountain Goats - Goats use the slopes of Marmot Mountain in summer and its wind-swept ridges and passes in winter. Winter is particularly stressful and disturbances could affect the health and survival of individuals. Temporary displacement of mountain goats as a result of potential construction is possible. Maintaining access to a popular mineral lick in the potential area for removal from the leasehold is considered important. A clear understanding of the role of the ridge in the movement of goats in winter and its importance to the regional population is required to properly determine impacts to ecological integrity and assess lift options in the long-range plan.

Mitigations are intended to prevent permanent displacement of goats from habitat essential to the regional population. Expected ecological outcomes can be realized if potential use and development along the summit ridge do not have a significant impact on the movement of goats. Impacts on the mountain goat population in the Trident Range are unlikely if regionally important movement patterns are maintained.

Wolverines - Opportunistic scavengers, wolverines occupy large home ranges and diverse habitats. Current winter use at Marmot Basin already likely displaces wolverines and it is unlikely more development or use would have an additional impact.

Mitigations focus on maintaining movement through the ski area and preventing further displacement or mortality as a result of expansion.

Maintaining the composition and structure of vegetation as described in the management parameters for small mammals is expected to allow wolverine to move through the ski area and forage during the off-season. Effective waste management will discourage wolverine from frequenting populated areas and prevent the associated habituation and mortality.

Small-scale development is unlikely to affect wolverine at the regional scale. Expected ecological outcomes are intended to prevent further displacement locally and control the potential for habituation and mortality.

Lynx - Lynx require a variety of habitats for foraging and denning. Fairly tolerant of humans, lynx in the Rocky Mountains are sensitive to environmental change; care must be taken when modifying their habitat. More traffic may lead to greater mortality. Vegetation management strategies may offset the effect of development on lynx, provided forested areas are sufficiently large.

The mitigations for lynx focus on maintaining snowshoe hare habitat and allowing lynx to use and travel through the leasehold. The effect on lynx at a regional or local scale is likely not significant as the entire leasehold represents less than one per cent of an adult lynx's home range.

The expected ecological outcomes for lynx can be achieved by maintaining habitat and vegetation that support their use of the leasehold.

Impact on the Visitor Experience

Expected Outcomes

  • Proposed development meets visitor needs and expectations.
  • Visitors have an opportunity to learn about natural and cultural heritage.
  • Development maintains a natural feel.
  • The potential for conflict between different types of visitors is kept to a minimum.

Needs and Expectations - The guidelines allow for potential initiatives related to new beginner terrain, additional expert terrain, modernized lifts, a balance of services and facilities, expanded day lodge facilities and improved parking. The potential development, if proposals are advanced, is expected to contribute to a quality visitor experience and the economic sustainability of the ski hill and the Town of Jasper.

No published standards exist for the design of ski terrain. Modern designers typically create a 35/65 ratio between cleared areas and natural forest cover. Runs are typically between 30m and 50m wide depending on the desired difficulty. The distance between runs is usually wider than the runs themselves. These parameters are similar to those required to maintain small animal habitat.

Education - Visitors and Marmot Basin employees will have the opportunity to learn about natural and cultural heritage. Visitor education is important in gaining the support and cooperation of visitors for the management parameters. The desired outcomes for water conservation and protection of caribou and mountain goats is closely linked to goals for visitor education.

Aesthetics -Simulating a naturally fragmented landscape will contribute to a natural look and feel. The Long-Range Plans will explore ways to minimize disruption to the profile of the summit ridge in the event a potential summit terminal for the Knob Chairlift is advanced. It is important to understand that potential development at Marmot Basin may affect the aesthetic experience of other visitors.

Visitor Use Conflicts - An increase in out-of-bounds skiing could affect the experience of backcountry users. Mitigations that prevent disruptions to caribou and mountain goats are expected to deal with visitor use conflicts in backcountry areas.

Impact on Resources and Infrastructure

Expected Outcomes

  • Existing resources and infrastructure support new development and increased use.
  • Development respects environmental standards.

Roads and Transportation - The site guidelines stress the importance of public transit and of improving the efficiency of existing parking lots. There will be no net increase in the number of service roads, which will be consolidated where possible.

The use of mass transit will reduce the need to build or expand facilities. Long-Range Plans will address the effect more traffic on the access road will have on wildlife and public safety.

Water Supply - With effective planning, operation and monitoring, no downstream water supply or water quality issues are anticipated. Application of the site guidelines and appropriate mitigations will achieve the expected outcomes.

Electricity - Energy efficient technologies (e.g. snow guns) will reduce the need for additional electrical power. If more power is required, Marmot Basin will investigate alternative energy sources, avoiding the need to draw on the local power grid. If a specific development proposal requires more energy from the power grid, capacity must be in place before the project is implemented. Application of the site guidelines and appropriate mitigations will achieve the expected outcomes.

Accommodation - All employee housing and visitor accommodation is currently provided in the Town of Jasper, at Outlying Commercial Accommodations (OCAs) or in nearby communities. An employee housing strategy will be required as part of a Long-Range Plan before projects that require the hiring of additional staff can be implemented. The need for extra staff at Marmot as a result of development is minimal. Visitor accommodation needs must be met within the established growth limits for the community and OCAs and as well as outside the park. This will need to be clearly demonstrated in Long-Range Plans

Information Requirements

Additional information is needed to properly evaluate proposals brought forward in the long-range plan. The most important information requirements for the long-range planning process are:

  • Vegetation fragmentation
  • Hydrologic flow and water quality
  • Caribou Risk Assessment and scenario modelling
  • Goat Habitat Assessment
  • Visual Impact Assessment
  • Analysis of infrastructure capacity

Legislation and Policy

Development and use allowed by the site guidelines reflect existing legislation and policy, including the Jasper National Park Management Plan and the Ski Area Management Guidelines . Adjustments to Schedule 5 of the Canada National Parks Act will need to be in place prior to issuing permits for potential development that is outside of the existing leasehold boundary. Leasehold boundary reconfiguration must be approved before consideration of an exception to the Ski Area Management Guidelines .

Cumulative Effects/Conclusions

The cumulative effects of all potential ski area development activities contemplated by the site guidelines were considered with respect to the expected outcomes for ecological integrity, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity.

Ecological Integrity

The cumulative effects associated with potential ski area development are not expected to compromise ecological integrity in the region.

Removing the lower Whistlers Creek Valley from the leasehold is expected to result in long-term protection of important caribou habitat and to benefit other wildlife in the area including grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, and mountain goats. This is a substantial environmental gain as defined in the Ski Area Management Guidelines . As a result, Parks Canada is willing to consider exceptions to that policy. The environmental gain depends in part on the ability to control skier access from a potential Knob Chairlift extension proposal, should it be advanced, down the backside of Marmot Mountain.

A precautionary approach is being taken to address potential development issues where uncertainty exists. The effect of a potential Knob Chairlift extension proposal on mountain goat and caribou habitat and the effectiveness of mitigating measures are unclear. As a result, precautionary measures have been applied throughout the site guidelines and the SEA, in particular with respect to potential adverse effects on the habits and habitats of both mountain goats and woodland caribou. The potential extension of the Knob Chairlift may disrupt mountain goat migration routes, depending on the location and design of the upper terminal. An objective and scientifically sound assessment of the impact of the long-range plan on the regional mountain goat population will require more information about goat habitat, movement and their use of Marmot Basin. A caribou risk assessment will examine the effect of potential development in Tres Hombres and Outer Limits on caribou and caribou habitat before a decision is made regarding the consideration of potential development in these areas. The risk assessment may also identify mitigations to ensure that current off-piste skiing contributes to achieving the ecological parameters. Negotiated, permanent growth limits will decrease the size of the leasehold and provide greater certainty about long-term land use.

While recognizing that additional analysis will take place as part of the caribou risk assessment and future environmental assessments, potential development that may be advanced in a Long-Range Plan, is not expected to threaten sensitive wildlife, including regional populations of grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, woodland caribou, and mountain goats.

Vegetation management and ski terrain design will support regional fire and vegetation strategies. The artificial modification and management of ecosystems will resemble naturally disturbed landscapes such as bowls and slopes shaped by avalanches.

At the local scale, sensitive species, communities, and features are expected to be protected, maintained, and restored with appropriate mitigation. The cumulative effects of potential development are not expected to result in the local extirpation of any sensitive species, communities or wildlife.

In spite of possible increased water use, aquatic ecosystems are expected to function naturally. Seasonal flows will continue to support aquatic and riparian vegetation and wildlife.

Additional research and planning is needed to ensure development and use achieves intended outcomes for the environment and visitor experience. The SEA describes initiatives to reduce uncertainty and to provide objective, scientifically sound information to support future decision-making that must be addressed as specific proposal are advanced in long-range plans. To achieve the expected outcomes for ecological integrity, Long-Range Plans and subsequent environmental assessments must clearly respond to the ecological management parameters in the site guidelines and the planning and information requirements of the SEA.

Visitor Experience

Expectations for visitor education and experiences are consistent with those required of communities and outlying commercial accommodation. The potential development, if advanced, is expected to contribute to a balanced resort and a quality visitor experience that enables the ski area to remain competitive.

Visitors and employees of Marmot Basin will have opportunities to learn about Jasper's natural and cultural heritage and its status as a World Heritage Site. Visitor education is closely linked to expected ecological outcomes for the protection of caribou and mountain goats. The site guidelines address the impact on the view and visitor use conflicts, both on and off the hill.

Infrastructure Capacity

The existing infrastructure is expected to accommodate resource use related to transportation, accommodation and electricity. Including limits to growth for the ski area in updates to the park's management plan will ensure changes at the ski area are considered in regional plans and assessments.

Conclusion

Potential future ski area development proposals that are advanced according to the Marmot Basin Site Guidelines and the planning and information requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment are expected to achieve the desired outcomes for ecological integrity, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity while providing clear parameters for Marmot Basin to conduct business planning in support of a financially healthy operation.

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