February 11, 2016

HARKIN HALL, BANFF PARK ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, BANFF, ALBERTA 

Parks Canada CEO welcome

Daniel Watson, CEO of the Parks Canada Agency, welcomed the audience. Highlights of his remarks were as follows:

  • Former CEO Alan Latourelle has left a wonderful legacy of stewardship with 46 National parks and 168 national historic sites, coast to coast to coast.
  • Banff National Park is a special place for all Canadians and for people around the world, with talented and well-respected superintendents and strong teams responsible for it. Banff is always in the forefront of emerging issues and challenges.
  • Parks Canada is proud to be working with a broad range of partners.

Superintendents’ year in review

Superintendents Dave McDonough (Banff Field Unit) and Melanie Kwong (Lake Louise Yoho Kootenay Field Unit) jointly presented the Year-in-Review. Year-in-Review documents are available from Parks Canada (either in hard-copy or on-line at www.pc.gc.ca/banff under Park Management). They also discussed the coming years, leading up to the next Management Plan review in 2020. The highlights of their presentations were as follows:

The Superintendents thanked their teams and national office staff for their hard work and support, and highlighted the importance of their many partners in the private and public sector.

Conservation leadership:

Banff National Park is contributing to national targets for ecological integrity, especially focused on three key ecosystems: forest, alpine and freshwater. In the area of cultural heritage, Parks Canada staff are using conservation techniques and technology to ensure that the national historic sites within the park are preserved and presented appropriately.

Aquatic restoration
  • Two major themes: restoring native species and restoring connectivity.
  • Rainbow trout were removed from Rainbow Lake and replaced by pure westslope cutthroat from Sawback Lake. Non-native species were also removed from Sawback Creek. All removal was done by non-chemical means. Banff National Park now has, for the first time since they were listed, a new, additional core population of Westslope cutthroat trout.
  • Non-native brook trout removal continues at Hidden Lake.
  • These two efforts have been assisted by 225 volunteer hours.
  • Bull trout have been fitted with transponders by Carleton University researchers to study the restored connectivity in Forty Mile Creek.
  • Bath Creek culvert improvement across the Trans-Canada Highway has resulted in improved connectivity to spawning grounds for Bull trout, Westslope cutthroat trout and Whitefish.
  • By the 2018 pre-management plan check-in, Banff National Park is confident that monitoring results will show a significant improvement in the aquatic ecological integrity monitoring measure.
Vegetation management
  • Key themes: suppressing wildfires, reintroducing the natural fire cycle, and non-native species control.
  • Two crews plus over 1,000 hours of volunteer work have gone into invasive weed removal this year. Park staff ensure that hay and feed brought into the park does not contribute to this problem.
  • Parks Canada is working with Environment Canada, other Canadian national parks and Glacier National Park (U.S.) on ways to encourage blister rust-resistant whitebark pine.
  • Sawback prescribed burn in the fall of 2014 successfully burned 676 hectares without significant impact on visitors or the Town of Banff. The improved habitat for ungulates and grizzlies will also help to move grizzlies away from the railway tracks in the valley bottom.
  • A large prescribed burn in the Dormer in the fall of 2015 burned 1,560 hectares. This restores montane habitat, and will have the future benefit of encouraging reintroduced bison to stay in the park.
  • The Spreading Creek wildfire in summer 2014 was contained and managed to prevent property damage, and was used as an education opportunity for visitors and the media.
  • The Snarl Creek fire, 80 km northeast of the Banff townsite, was contained and extinguished, working with the province of Alberta.
  • In summer 2015, Banff National Park’s initial attack crew suppressed five lightning fires in the span of two days.
Wildlife management
  • Monitoring of the Bow Valley Parkway spring overnight travel restriction shows wary species using the area when it is free from traffic.
  • Banff National Park staff worked with Norquay ski area on the FireSmart program to minimize fire danger and enhance movement for wildlife around the townsite area.
  • Wildlife conflict staff and wildlife guardians continue to minimize conflicts between wildlife and visitors. In 2015, Banff National Park had no human-caused grizzly bear mortality and no significant human-bear negative interactions. Interpretation and outreach continue to educate people about being around wildlife.
  • The first discovery of a bat hibernaculum in Banff National Park took place this year, providing an opportunity to monitor their health.
  • Re-introduction of wild bison continues on schedule, with the intent to have bison here in mid-winter of 2017. They will be acclimatized in a temporary paddock and then released. Project staff are taking it slowly to do it right and to respect the concerns of stakeholders. Baseline information on vegetation, songbirds and aquatic indicators has been gathered. Permeable fences will be installed and then movement of other animals will be tracked to ensure that it has not impacted. Parks Canada will be giving its horses and those of recreational users in the area an opportunity to get used to bison by placing a few at the YaHaTinda Ranch.
  • Banff will play a role in the multi-park effort to support southern mountain caribou. Primary focus at present is on augmentation of herds in Jasper National Park and maternity penning in Mt. Revelstoke-Glacier. Banff National Park is looking at potential for reintroduction by doing research on predator-prey dynamics, especially wolves.
  • Multi-year, multi-partner research to diminish grizzly mortality on the rail line is nearly complete, and results are being written up. GPS collaring, electro-mat experiments, habitat improvement, bear behaviour observation are all part of this effort.
Cultural resources
  • Masonry at Honeymoon Cabin at Skoki National Historic Site was restored in summer of 2015. More work will be happening there.

Building awareness, appreciation and understanding

Parks Canada is bringing the parks to urban Canadians. The name recognition of Banff enables staff to help profile some of the lesser-known parks.

  • In collaboration with the Calgary Zoo, Parks Canada engaged 65,000 young families in a "Get Into the Wild" program, profiling Banff National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park and Grasslands National Park, and their endangered or at-risk species.
  • Parks Canada has also been active in Toronto (working with the Toronto Zoo and Rouge urban national park, at the Canadian National Exhibition and at the Royal Ontario Museum) and Vancouver (at the Science Centre and at special events).
  • Banff National Park is building awareness online. The park's Facebook page has grown 13% (to 17,000 from 15,000) and the Twitter channel has grown 25% and is one of the largest in the country, both making use of Banff's great wildlife video resources.

Connecting visitors

  • Projecting to March 2016, Banff National Park anticipates having hosted 3.8 million visitors this fiscal year, an increase of 7.7% over last year, which was a significant increase over the year before. 
  • Significant increases occurred in shoulder seasons and in winter, reflecting the work that Parks Canada staff and others are doing to encourage visitation in the less busy times.
  • Banff National Park has streamlined the campground reservation system and added 300 sites to those reservable. Camping is up 10% in 2015 over the previous year. Twenty-two equipped campsites are available at Two Jack Lake campground to encourage those who may not own equipment and just want to give camping a try. Equipped camping had a 73% occupancy last year and a very high satisfaction rate. Otentiks had an 88% occupancy rate in 2015, up 14% over 2014.
  • The park's interpreters made approximately 250,000 in-person contacts in 2015, a 60% increase over 2014.
  • The park's wildlife crossing exhibit at the Castle Mountain viewpoint on the Trans-Canada Highway was completed.
  • Parks Canada's partnerships for third-party park pass sales with Banff-Lake Louise Tourism, MEC and Tourism Canmore have been very successful and help reduce congestion at the East Gate.
  • Park staff participate in special events in the park with "Learn to" experiences, such as "Learn to Snowshoe."
  • Around larch season in the Lake Louise area, the shuttle bus program has proven very successful in reducing traffic congestion.
  • The Cave & Basin National Historic Site welcomed 127,000 visitors in the 12 months leading up to January 1, 2016, up 55% from the previous year, making it one of the most visited national historic sites in the country. It highlights not only Banff National Park, but the rest of the system. Special events have been held as part of the lead-up to the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017, and it is used as an off-hours’ venue.
  • Over 1,000 volunteers have contributed over 15,000 volunteer hours in the past year. An example was the trail signage inventory, where Bow Valley volunteers hiked over 600 kilometres and inventoried 1,000 trail signs in two months.

Looking forward

The next formal review of the Banff National Park Management Plan will be in 2020. Banff National Park has largely accomplished the priorities identified for the first five years of the current plan. Last year, the Superintendents met with the Round Table group to look at priorities for the remaining five years of this current plan.

The broad priorities going forward include:
  • Conserving the park's natural and cultural heritage: including bison reintroduction, caribou reintroduction, grizzly research, fire restoration, greening park facilities, involving volunteers and partners.
  • Strengthening the park's relationship with Indigenous Peoples: encouraging them to tell park staff how they can participate in the work of this park.
  • Improve the exceptional visitor experience: building support and commitment for national parks, including building on and valuing the backcountry experience.
  • Connecting with people outside the park: helping Canadians understand and appreciate national parks.
Infrastructure investment
  • Banff National Park is going into the second year of a five-year investment, which will lead to improved visitor experience and improved safety.
  • Examples include: paving on Icefields Parkway, rock-scaling on Highway 93 South, Trans-Canada Highway bridges, Johnston Canyon, Tunnel Mountain campground, Johnson Lake day use area, East Gate improvements, Icefields Parkway camping improvements.
2017
  • Banff will be a place of interest for the celebrations.
  • The Discovery Pass will be valid for 24 months.
  • More details will be coming soon.
2020 Plan Review
  • Next year, park staff will be starting to collect the data to build a "State of the Park" report in 2018.
  • Banff National Park will be positioned in 2020 to have a good, fact-based discussion of where it wants to go into the future.
  • The park will be working well in advance to engage a broad range of public.

Superintendents’ open Q & A

  • The superintendents and CEO Daniel Watson answered a range of questions posed on-the-spot by Round Table members and the general audience. Questions/comments were as follows:
  • Given the increases you mentioned in numbers of visitors, is the park equipped to handle similar increases in the coming years and still maintain a high-quality visitor experience?
  • Have you thought about the impact of the free pass in 2017 on park visitation - are you ready for five million visitors? And about the financial deficit that the loss of gate fees will create?
  • Does Parks Canada take an active role in controlling the speeding on the Trans-Canada Highway? Or do you have an ability to have input into enforcement levels? Or photo radar?
  • Is Bryant Creek shelter slated to be removed?
  • Ernest Water Chief, representative from the Siksika First Nation described the history of their involvement with the park and with the federal government in general, and expressed that this area is traditional Blackfoot territory, and suggested that the Siksika Nation looks forward to opportunities for to be more involved with the park.
  • What are the future partnership opportunities you see for Brewster and other private operators, and how can we collectively work together to achieve the park's objectives?
  • Why does Parks Canada continue to support for-profit races on busy summer weekends, when the impact is negative on average visitors and on residents?
  • With the new Liberal government in position, how do you see the relationship between the federal government and Parks Canada? Is it improving?
  • Is most of the highway in the park fenced, and how often do animals breach the fence?
  • Parks Canada's trail condition website is very poor and not as up-to-date as it should be. Will it be improved?
  • Is there any intention to revisit the decision on the Lake Louise Ski Area Site Guidelines?
  • What will you change about the forum to bring conservation and wilderness groups back to the forum?
  • Karen Sorensen, Mayor of Banff expressed the town's appreciation for Parks Canada's release of housing lands, and their support for below-market housing.