Each national park requires a management plan that describes its vision and broad direction. The management planning process takes place every 10 years and involves: assessing the current state of park resources; determining key trends, pressures and opportunities; setting priorities; and seeking input from all Canadians.

Because national parks are dynamic and change over time in response to many factors, a state of the park assessment is the first step in the management planning process. It provides a ‘report card’ on the condition of natural and cultural resources and aspects of Parks Canada’s work in a national park and describes whether the condition shows an improving, declining or stable trend.

Condition ratings are determined through on-going monitoring, surveys and other forms of feedback, gathered since the previous Park Management Plan was approved in 2010. Key indicators are grouped into six main themes: ecological integrity, cultural resources, external relations, Indigenous relations, visitor experience and built assets. Using established thresholds, indicators are rated as: Good, Fair, or Poor

The State of the Park Assessment uses data from a variety of sources, such as ecological monitoring results, visitor surveys, attendance counts, and built asset inspections. A standardized approach allows Parks Canada to compare parks and sites across the Parks Canada network. The following are the results for Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP).

Ecological Integrity

It is important to note this assessment was conducted prior to a significant wildfire event, Kenow Wildfire, which occurred in WLNP in September 2017, burning approximately 38% of the park area and 50% of the vegetated landscape. The effects this event will have on the ecological integrity of the park is presently unknown.

Five measures were evaluated for each of three important ecosystems to rate their overall condition.

Forest ecosystems Fair

Multi-species mammal occupancy remains relatively high and stable overall while the forest bird community remains in a fair and stable condition. Whitebark and limber pine continue to be decimated by the white pine blister rust fungal disease. Restoration efforts continue. Prior to the Kenow Wildfire, effects of the natural disturbance process of fire on the park’s forests were rated as fair and improving through the prescribed burning program. The wildfire brought the park significantly closer to the burned area objective within the specified time interval and very close to a good rating. The forest ecosystems in WLNP are rated fair.

Grasslands ecosystems Fair

The population of elk, the dominant herbivore in the grassland ecosystem, remains in good and relatively stable condition while grassland birds are in fair condition due to some species and guilds experiencing a decline. Invasive non-native plants continue to be the main stressor affecting the condition of the fescue grasslands. The Kenow Wildfire exceeded the burned area objective within the specified time interval resulting in a fair rating for the grasslands ecosystems.

Freshwater ecosystems Poor

Water quality in the park’s two large rivers, the Waterton and the Belly, remains in good and stable condition. Historic stocking practices, largely with non-native species, have highly altered fish communities in park lakes and streams. Research in WLNP Waterton has shown that stocking of fishless lakes has altered food webs and impacted zooplankton and amphibians. Stream biotic health, a measure of benthic invertebrate communities, is in good condition while amphibian populations remain in good condition with all surveyed species maintaining stable populations. The freshwater ecosystems in WLNP are rated poor.

Cultural Resources Fair

Archeological sites are in fair condition. The 2017 Kenow Wildfire impacted a large portion of the known archaeology by adding 70 new archaeological sites to WLNP’s archaeological inventory (total now at 406 sites). The park contains 19 recognized heritage buildings (e.g. Prince of Wales Hotel and RCMP detachment buildings), with the condition of the buildings ranging in ratings from poor to good condition. No cultural landscapes or landscape features have been formally identified in WLNP.

The archaeological objects for the park comprises over 30,500 artifacts. The majority of the recovered artifacts are currently stored at the Parks Canada Winnipeg office and are stable. Historical objects (non-archaeological) within the park are all catalogued and curated in acceptable repositories and they are considered stable.

External Relations Good

Bringing the parks to Canadians and engaging the public in meaningful ways help create personal connections to the parks and foster support for park management. Social media, events and urban outreach initiatives promote the park. Strategic partnering and volunteer opportunities broaden public support. External relations were essential during the Kenow Wildfire with interest in the park peaking on media, web and social media during and after the Kenow Wildfire. External Relations are rated good.

Indigenous Relations

WLNP is part of the traditional territory and place of significance for various Indigenous peoples. Collaboration takes place with Piikani and Kainai First Nations on a range of projects including the new Visitor Center, interpretive activities and events, and conservation of natural and cultural resources. WLNP remains committed to continued engagement to ensure Indigenous history, culture, and values are shared respectfully, and told authentically, by Indigenous peoples.

Because indicators and measures of the relationship between Parks Canada and Indigenous peoples should be collaboratively determined based on shared understanding and evaluation of what is meaningful to all parties, rating at this stage would be premature.

Visitor Experience Good

Visitation to WLNP increased by 34% from 2011 to 2017 with 536,864 visitors visiting the park annually. Based on Visitor Information Program surveys completed in 2011, enjoyment and satisfaction with visitor’s experiences were rated high however visitor learning scores were lower than expected. Over the past decade there has been a focus on incorporating interpretation and outreach into the conservation and restoration projects in the park to provide more learning opportunities for visitors to the park and beyond.

Since the last management plan, many actions have been undertaken to ensure quality visitor experiences. Examples include: campground washroom replacement, street and sidewalk improvements, additional parking in the townsite and major day use areas, traffic management strategies and additional janitorial staff.

Built Assets Good

WLNP has a total of 517 assets. Significant investments through the Federal Infrastructure Investment (FII) program have resulted in improvements to the built assets in the park, including townsite facilities. Recent projects include the Townsite Street Works, the Marina Sea Wall and the new Visitor Center. Post-Kenow Wildfire reconstruction is still in the planning stages for repair or replacement of several buildings and facilities in the park. Highways are in good condition but the temporary closure of some parkways post Kenow Wildfire lowered the overall road condition rating.

  • Buildings Good
  • Highways Good
  • Roads Good
  • Vehicular bridges Fair
  • Visitor facilities Fair

Key considerations – identified from the State of the Park Assessment

Parks Canada identified the following as key considerations in planning for the future of WLNP.

Kenow Wildfire recovery and monitoring

The fire affected 38% of the park and 50% of its vegetation. Recovery efforts are still underway. The majority of the west side of the park was closed to visitors for the 2018 season. There is significant interest in recovery and monitoring plans resulting in an increased demand for communications with staff, stakeholders, Indigenous groups and the public.

Managing increasing visitation

Prior to the Kenow Wildfire, visitation levels had been increasing significantly creating traffic congestion and parking issues. Visitation levels have rebounded as areas and facilities once closed due to the fire have reopened. It is anticipated that the trend for increasing visitation will continue. Considerations for a long-term approach to manage ongoing congestion in the park and asset sustainability are needed.

Invasive species

Invasive non-native plants continue to be the main stressor affecting the condition of the fescue grasslands in WLNP. Even with restoration efforts, whitebark and limber pine continue to be decimated by the white pine blister rust fungal disease. In many locations the presence of non-native fish is jeopardizing the status of native fish populations through hybridization and competition. The stocking of fishless lakes has altered food webs and impacted zooplankton and amphibians.

Indigenous relations and cultural Integrity

Relationships continue to develop with Indigenous partners. Parks Canada will continue its efforts to work closely with the Blackfoot Confederacy, particularly Kainai and Piikani First Nations, related to Indigenous traditional knowledge, traditional use and interpretive programming that provide opportunities for visitors to learn about Blackfoot culture, history, and connection to WLNP.

As a result of the Kenow Wildfire, new archaeological sites were added and known extent of the remaining archaeological sites within the burn zone were expanded. Subsequently, there will be enhanced interest for programming and conservation of cultural resources.