Background

As part of the planning and development process for the ski area, Parks Canada, in collaboration with Marmot Basin, has drafted the Marmot Basin Site Guidelines (the guidelines).  The guidelines describe possible development and use, set permanent limits to growth and provide direction for the foreseeable future.

Parks Canada has conducted a strategic environmental assessment of the guidelines to address the potential environmental implications and public concerns related to ski area development. This approach to strategic environmental assessment is consistent with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals and other similar Parks Canada planning initiatives including those for park communities and outlying commercial accommodations.

Scope of assessment

Legislation, policy and management plan direction was used to focus the SEA on the most important issues to JNP and to provide a benchmark against which the potential environmental impacts of the site guidelines can be assessed. Parks Canada, with the help of resource specialists, has identified a suite of valued components that reflect key threats and issues related to ecological integrity, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity.

The SEA does not address mitigations related to ski area project construction and on-going operations. These will be addressed separately through a combination of best management practices, the implementation of an environmental management system consistent with an approved Long-Range Plan, and the environmental assessment of the Long-Range Plans and projects pursuant to the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Alternatives

A number of development alternatives that could have been considered for Marmot Basin were considered and 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 “exceptions” outlined in the site guidelines represent functionally different ways of approaching potential ski area development from the standards outlined in the Ski area management guidelines and were considered as alternatives for the purpose of strategic environmental assessment. The potential exceptions were identified and assessed individually throughout the strategic environmental assessment document and also evaluated as a package with a focus on cumulative environmental effects.

Public input

Parks Canada considered input from a range of people and organizations who have an interest in the future of Marmot Basin as part of the preparation and review of the strategic environmental assessment including ski areas, environmental groups, Park science, planning and environmental assessment staff, independent peer review and review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Public open houses in Jasper and Edmonton attracted more than 100 people and summary documents for the draft site guidelines and the draft strategic environmental assessment were provided for comment on the Parks Canada website. Views on the draft Marmot Basin Site Guidelines themselves were mixed. Few substantive comments were received with respect to the scope, content or conclusions of the strategic environment assessment though some concern was expressed with respect to levels of scientific certainty.

Parks Canada has carefully considered these views in finalizing the strategic assessment to ensure the site guidelines reflect the principles and direction of the Ski area management guidelines. The mitigations of the strategic environmental assessment address acknowledged scientific limitations and uncertainties and provide direction on knowledge deficiencies to be addressed as part of future long range planning processes.

Mitigating measures

Ecological management parameters addressing the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity, and key mitigations related to visitor experience and infrastructure capacity, are included in this public statement. The full suite of mitigation measures, including planning, knowledge and information requirements are included in the body of the complete strategic environmental assessment report.

Ecological 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.
Ecological 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.
Ecological 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.
  • Below Eagle Chalet, vegetation consists of a minimum of 65% natural forest.
  • 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 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.
Key mitigations: visitor experience

Assessment of potential impact on visitor experience considered skier needs and expectations, visitor education and national park experience, viewscapes and aesthetics, and visitor use conflicts. Parameters for ski run design address key issues related to skier experience and aesthetics for other park users as well as integrating with wildlife ecological management parameters. Other key mitigations include:

  • visitors are informed of the potential impacts to caribou and mountain goats associated with off-piste and out-of bounds skiing and encouraged to follow protective guidelines
  • visitors are informed of the potential impacts associated with water use and are encouraged to support water conservation measures
  • design and location alternatives that minimize the disruption of the summit ridge profile and visibility of the potential Knob chair extension should be identified and evaluated.
Key mitigations: infrastructure capacity

The strategies and mitigations outlined in the site guidelines and the SEA are intended to ensure that ski area resource use falls within existing infrastructure capacity. Where additional capacity is required the mitigations are intended to ensure that ski areas resource use falls within existing environmental capacity.

The incorporation of sustainable design principles and products into ski area development plans is intended to ensure resource use efficiency and conservation. The implementation of an environmental management system is intended to ensure that ski area operational impacts are within accepted or agreed upon environmental parameters and standards. Ski area growth limits will be incorporated into the updates for the Jasper National Park Management Plan ensuring that ski area growth is further factored into regional plans and assessments.

Summary and conclusions

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.  The cumulative effects of all proposed ski area development activities were considered with respect to expected outcomes for ecological integrity, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity.

Ecological integrity

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. Negotiated, permanent growth limits will decrease the size of the leasehold and provide greater certainty about long-term land use. 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 effect of the Knob Chairlift extension on mountain goat and caribou habitat and the effectiveness of mitigating measures are unclear. 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.

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. The cumulative effects of 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.

Visitor experience

Expectations for visitor education and experiences are consistent with those required of communities and outlying commercial accommodation.  The proposed development 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 parameters are closely linked to, and support expected ecological outcomes related to 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

Ski area development that proceeds according to the draft Marmot Basin Site Guidelines and the planning and information requirements of the draft strategic environmental assessment are expected to achieve desired outcomes for ecological integrity, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity while providing clear parameters for Marmot Basin to conduct business planning in support of an economically healthy operation.