Through the environmental assessment process, Parks Canada has determined that the Glacier Discovery Walk project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, subject to the implementation of a suite of mitigation measures.
The environmental assessment determination identified two key areas of concern for mitigation, including the project’s potential impacts on wildlife (particularly mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep), and the project’s potential impacts on visitors, including modified access to the site, increased traffic and congestion, and altered aesthetics.
Mitigation measures identified in Parks Canada’s determination will ensure that the potential impacts of the project are minimized.
Mitigation measures related to mountain goats and sheep have been developed for all aspects of the project design, construction, operation and maintenance of the walk, including:
- Construction will take place in a single season to minimize traffic and other disturbances;
- Blasting and cliff area construction will not occur during kidding or lambing season (from mid-May to mid-July);
- The walkway will be designed to minimize visual, auditory, and other sensory intrusions to sheep and goats on the cliffs below;
- The hours of operation of the Glacier Discovery Walk will be adjusted during the lambing and kidding season, and after mid-July, to avoid morning and evening periods important to wildlife movement;
- The use of road salt within the lease area will be minimized and managed through a snow and ice management plan developed and implemented in collaboration with Parks Canada;
- A site-specific Best Practices for Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep Viewing will be developed that addresses issues related to food and drink, litter management, safe viewing distances, off-site travel, disturbance of movement corridors and other factors;
- Staff and public education programs on best practices for mountain goat and bighorn sheep viewing will be developed. The public education programs will be delivered before the public arrives at the site; messaging will be reinforced on-site through both personal and non-personal means.
As a result of these mitigations, the effects of the project on wildlife – specifically mountain goats and bighorn sheep – are anticipated to be within the range of natural variability in terms of species abundance, distribution and behaviour. Changes to the site environment are likely to impact how mountain goats and bighorn sheep use the area, but are not anticipated to cause abandonment of the site nor affect the viability of the local herds.
A monitoring program will be designed and implemented to assess and adapt the mitigation measures throughout construction and operation to ensure that impacts on wildlife are minimized and populations remain secure. It will look at patterns of site use by goats, wildlife mortality, habituation and regional habitat security.
Should the monitoring program show that desired results for wildlife are not being met, Parks Canada will work with Brewster to develop and implement additional mitigations, including further modifying operating hours to accommodate seasonal timing sensitivities. Best practices for viewing could be also refined to reduce sensory disturbance at the site.
As part of the environmental assessment determination by Parks Canada, Brewster will also be required to invest in specific mitigations to address project impacts to visitors. Mitigation measures in this area include:
- Carrying out a traffic safety assessment and implementing recommendations to address vehicle flow and congestion issues at access points and within parking areas on Tangle Hill;
- Improvements (e.g. parking lot repairs, installation of new interpretive media and basic infrastructure like garbage receptacles) to other visitor opportunities in the area, most notably Stutfield and Tangle Falls viewpoints;
- Supporting a Wildlife Guardian and roving interpreter program for the Icefields area;
- Developing and implementing a visitor experience strategy;
- Construction of a connector trail from the Icefield area’s campgrounds to the Icefield Centre (pending an environmental assessment);
- Expansion of the shuttle bus system to transport visitors to other opportunities in the Icefields Area area, thereby reducing traffic congestion, increasing public safety and reducing carbon emissions.
Parks Canada is deferring consideration of a trail linking Tangle Falls with the Glacier Discovery Walk site until monitoring results demonstrate whether trail use might adversely affect goat movement.
Parks Canada will require Brewster to develop a plan for its operations in the Columbia Icefields area to manage growth and development; to use best practices in the operation of the site; and to demonstrate leadership in environmental management, stewardship and the provision of visitor experiences that promote learning and appreciation of the area and the park as a whole.