Mt. Norquay ski area site guidelines for development and use
As part of the planning and development process for Mt Norquay Ski Area, Parks Canada has developed the Mt Norquay Ski Area Site Guidelines for Development and Use (Site Guidelines). The Site Guidelines describe the nature, scope and parameters for potential development and use that could be considered in the future and identify potential permanent limits to growth. Parks Canada has undertaken a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to examine the implications of the Site Guidelines and help decision-makers understand their potential consequences.
Most of the potentially significant environmental issues related to ski area development and use at Mt Norquay Ski Area are linked to the residual impacts of long term fire suppression. Long term fire suppression has resulted in significant change to vegetation composition and structure, primarily forest encroachment and canopy closure which has resulted in the significant loss of native montane grasslands and alpine meadows. The change in vegetation has resulted in a concentration of wildlife on the ski area as the maintained ski area runs are one of few remaining meadow/grassland habitats remaining in the Mt Norquay/Stoney Squaw area. The loss of regional quality grassland and meadow habitat over time, combined with high levels of human disturbance in the greater region has resulted in potential adverse impacts to grizzly bears and bear habitat effectiveness, wildlife corridor effectiveness and predator/prey relationships. These primary impacts have secondary adverse impacts to native vegetation and wildlife habitat. Unmitigated increases in visitor use on the ski area, especially in the summer, are likely to aggravate current environmental conditions and issues.
In order to achieve desired ecological outcomes, potential summer visitor use considered in the Site Guidelines must be accompanied by mitigation measures that maintain or improve ecological conditions related to grizzly bear habitat effectiveness, corridor effectiveness and predator/prey relationships. The Site Guidelines and the SEA include a wide variety of mitigation measures that are anticipated to cumulatively:
- Enhance habitat quality on and around the ski area including enhancement to wildlife habitat and wildlife movement characteristics of the Cascade and Forty Mile wildlife corridors
- Increase the quantity of, and access to, high quality wildlife habitat at local and regional scales
- Decrease the level of visitor traffic disturbance within wildlife corridors
- Manage visitor use to achieve spatial separation of people and wildlife
- Ensure wildlife habitat quality at critical times through daily and seasonal (temporal) restrictions on hours of operation.
The mitigations of the Site Guidelines and SEA offer more than just conceptual solutions for addressing current and potential cumulative effects associated with ski area use and development. Realistic and tangible opportunities for improvement that cumulatively interact with ski area development and use are found within approved parks plans and strategies, and in established human use management practices. Ski area run development, vegetation management and FireSmart initiatives, including off-site corridor and habitat enhancements provide tangible opportunities to improve habitat and corridor function as well as facilitate broader fire management strategies. The Banff Fire Strategy in turn, includes plans and proposals for landscape scale prescribed burning and montane restoration in areas immediately adjacent to the ski area that reflect Parks Canada's strategic ecosystem management intentions, and provide tangible opportunity to improve wildlife habitat quantity and quality both locally and regionally.
The Park Management Plan supports the implementation of mass transit initiatives, specifically the consideration of a gondola from the town, that provide realistic opportunities to reduce corridor disturbance levels associated with summer use. The use and adaptation of Grizzly bear (and other wildlife) management strategies and visitor use protocols implemented in relation to Lake Louise and Sunshine summer use programs, as well as other best practice mitigations that have been adopted as standard operational and impact assessment mitigations throughout the parks, provide established and realistic opportunities for visitor use and education that can be reasonably expected to achieve effective spatial and temporal separation of people and wildlife in combination with other improvements.
The cumulative effects associated with potential ski area development as considered in the Site Guidelines are not expected to compromise ecological integrity at a regional scale. Permanent growth limits are proposed by the Site Guidelines, along with a reduced leasehold size, providing long-term land development and resource use certainty in accordance with the Ski Area Management Guidelines. Ski terrain design and vegetation management practices are expected to restore and reflect natural patterns of fragmentation and support regional fire and vegetation management efforts.
At the local scale, ecosystem composition and structure and essential ecological characteristics that define or support sensitive species, communities or features will be protected, maintained, and restored where feasible. It is expected that aquatic ecosystem processes will continue to function within a natural range of variability and that seasonal flows patterns will continue to support local aquatic and riparian wildlife and vegetation communities. The cumulative effects of ski area development are not expected to result in the extirpation of local sensitive species, communities or wildlife populations.
Consistent with a precautionary approach, the Site Guidelines stipulate the conditions that must be met before Parks Canada will consider potential future projects. In a number of cases there are environmental knowledge deficiencies related to some of the potential future initiatives that Mt Norquay has identified. In these cases, the knowledge gaps must be addressed as part of the preparation of a long-range plan if the ski area wishes to pursue the potential initiative in the future.
Overall, the guidance provided on planning and information requirements in the strategic environmental assessment is intended to provide information to reduce uncertainty and to provide objective, scientifically sound information for decision making. It should be emphasized that proposed long range plans and subsequent environmental assessments will have to clearly respond to the ecological management parameters of the Site Guidelines and the planning and information requirements of the SEA in order to demonstrate that desired outcomes can be achieved.
Ski area development that proceeds in accordance with the parameters of the Site Guidelines and that responds to the planning and information requirements of the SEA is expected to achieve outcomes for ecological integrity, cultural resources, visitor experience and infrastructure capacity consistent with direction in the Ski Area Management Guidelines and the park management plan.