Refinements to Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines

This public statement documents the application of the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (the Cabinet Directive) to the refinement of the Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines.

Background

Ski Area Management Guidelines (the Management Guidelines) were established in 2000 to guide the development of new ski area long-range plans. In order to facilitate improvements to ecological integrity, reflect the full scope of Parks Canada’s mandate and address the concerns of communities, ski areas, tourism associations and environmental groups, refinements to the Management Guidelines were announced in December 2006.

The purpose of the Management Guidelines is to clarify the process and outline the conditions for evaluating ski area long-range development plans in a manner consistent with the Canada National Parks Act. The intent of the Cabinet Directive, to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, was applied throughout the refinement of the Management Guidelines. A separate strategic environmental assessment report was not produced, consistent with direction in the Cabinet Directive to integrate statements on potential environmental implications into existing processes to the fullest possible extent. In this case the Management Guidelines themselves identify the key environmental issues and identify the mitigating measures which must be applied to ski area development in order to achieve long-term certainty around the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity and related national park values.

Scope of Assessment

Specific ski area development proposals were not considered in the refinement of the Management Guidelines. As a policy instrument, the Management Guidelines focus on identifying the principles and parameters under which an broad suite of possible development options will be considered in long-range plans including establishment of growth limits, additional development within the existing developed area, development outside the existing developed area, summer use, and exceptions to development policy that facilitate substantial environmental gain.

Parks Canada’s fundamental responsibilities are protecting heritage resources, facilitating opportunities for public education and memorable visitor experiences. As part of this integrated mandate, the Canada National Parks Act requires that the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity will be the first priority when considering all aspects of the management of parks. In keeping with the Agency’s focus on ecological integrity, the refinement and integrated assessment of the Management Guidelines considered potential impacts and developed mitigating measures that provide direction on the maintenance and restoration of alpine and forest ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and natural terrain features.

The refinement and integrated assessment of the Management Guidelines also considered the implications of ski area development for promoting memorable national park experience and public appreciation and understanding of national park values. Reflecting all aspects of the Parks Canada mandate, the Management Guidelines identify principles and parameters that ensure the inclusion and consideration of visitor experience and public education in long-range plans.

Alternatives

Alternative ski area development proposals were considered in the refinement and integrated assessment of the Management Guidelines. Alternatives were selected that best reflect the Parks Canada mandate of protecting heritage resources, promoting memorable national park experience, and public appreciation and understanding of national park values. Alternatives that were considered and rejected in the refinement of the Management Guidelines included on-hill accommodation, unrestricted year-round use and unrestricted development within the leasehold footprint. Alternatives selected included the continued prohibition of on-hill accommodation, strict criteria for summer use, and a series of development restraints that must be adhered to within the leasehold area.

Public Input

On-going public input on the refinement of the Management Guidelines was sought from affected stakeholders and interest groups including: ski areas, community leaders, and environmental groups throughout the process of refining the Management Guidelines. Two separate formal sessions were held with affected stakeholders during the course of refining the Management Guidelines. One session facilitated by the Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada took place in May 1996. The Minister of Environment facilitated another session in August of 1996. Input from these sessions was carefully considered. Key adjustments were made to the Management Guidelines to clarify the type and nature of development that could be considered, outline how proposals for summer use would be managed, and include clear direction on how ecosystem functioning would be maintained on the leasehold.

Mitigating Measures

The refinement and integrated assessment of the Management Guidelines resulted in the identification of a suite of mitigating measures intended to address the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity and ensure the inclusion of visitor experience and public education in ski area development plans. Mitigating measures detailing how the development principles established in the Management Guidelines will be applied were identified for:

  • the establishment of growth limits;
  • development within the existing developed area;
  • development outside the existing developed area;
  • summer use;
  • exceptions that facilitate substantial environmental gain;
  • environmental stewardship;
  • memorable visitor experience; and
  • public education.

Potential environmental effects were considered in relation to key components of ski area development including ski run development, vegetation management, lift and building construction, commercial space, terrain modification, transportation and parking, snowmaking and grooming, infrastructure capacity, water use, ski area operations and visitor use. Mitigating measures identified in the Management Guidelines focus on establishment of the planning parameters and actions needed to address the overall cumulative impacts to alpine and forest ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and natural terrain features as a result of anticipated ski area development activities.

Summary and Conclusions

The following points summarize the key refinements to the Management Guidelines achieved through the strategic environmental assessment process addressing heritage protection, visitor experience and public education:

  • The capacity of ski areas can increase but development will be permanently capped through the development of ski area-specific site guidelines.
  • Within the existing developed area, improvements to services and facilities can be considered; however, to ensure ecological integrity and address aesthetic issues, modification of physical terrain and forest cover will be carefully managed.
  • Ski area expansion into undeveloped areas, un-skied terrain and un-serviced terrain can only be considered if there are substantial environmental gains.
  • Where summer use is permitted it will be carefully managed to ensure ecological values are not compromised; ongoing monitoring programs will be put in place to ensure ecological issues are being effectively addressed.
  • Leasehold expansion will be prohibited.
  • The nature of ski area operations and visitor experiences will reflect and reinforce its location in a national park and world heritage site.
  • Ski areas will be encouraged to provide winter educational opportunities that focus on the heritage values of the park and world heritage site as a component of the skiing/snowboarding experience.

The Minister's announcement and the public release of the refinements to the Management Guidelines reiterate that ecological integrity is at the heart of the refinements to the Management Guidelines and will be the first priority in all ski area management decisions. The refinements to the Management Guidelines provide ski areas the flexibility they have sought to meet the needs of skiers and improve their financial sustainability, subject to the preparation of Long Range Plans and the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Ski area development that proceeds in accordance with the Management Guidelines is expected to ensure the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity while improving the world class experience of visitors and enhancing opportunities to achieve the objectives of both the ski hill owners and Parks Canada.