Introduction

New management plans are due in 2020 for all the mountain national parks (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier). Management plans lay out the future direction for the parks including a vision, key strategies and objectives over the next 10 years. They are developed through engagement with Indigenous groups, stakeholders and interested Canadians.

In early 2019, Parks Canada asked for input on what key considerations and opportunities should be addressed in drafting management plans for the mountain national parks. Each park has produced What We Heard summaries and this executive summary outlines the common themes heard between all mountain parks.

Feedback heard during engagement will inform the development of the draft management plans. Once complete, the draft plans will be shared with Indigenous groups for further input as well as posted on the Parks Canada website for stakeholder and public feedback.

About management planning

National park management plans guide the long-term strategic direction of all national parks and contribute to reaching Parks Canada Agency’s mandate, vision and priorities. Plans are intended to reflect the values and views of Canadians. Engagement processes are key instruments for connecting with Indigenous peoples and other Canadians about the management of national parks.

National park management plans are required by the Canada National Parks Act and Parks Canada Agency policies for management planning and reporting. Current legislation requires that every management plan be reviewed by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change a minimum of every 10 years and any resulting amendments be tabled in Parliament. The review and tabling in Parliament of national park management plans for the mountain parks (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier) are due in 2020. As many key issues, partners and stakeholders are the same, the mountain national park management plans have been proceeding together for consistency and efficiency.

The management planning process is divided into stages. The first stage defines the scope, collective vision and important priorities to be addressed in the draft management plan. Feedback is a key component of this stage— Parks Canada offered Indigenous groups, stakeholders and other Canadians a variety of opportunities to provide their input and ideas.

The summary of comments below were collected during this stage of the management planning process. This information, along with State of the Park Assessments, government priorities, regulatory and policy obligations, the previous national park management plans, research and trends, are all carefully considered in drafting the management plans.

Who we heard from

Between January and July 2019, Indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public were invited to provide feedback through a variety of forums including online surveys, public meetings and workshops, as well as meetings with key organizations such as Indigenous and stakeholder groups. Most of the input came through the Let’s Talk Mountain Parks webpage, an online engagement platform. While input was received from Canadians across the country, most of the participants were from Alberta and British Columbia. A significant number of submissions received were identical emails resulting from an environmental advocacy campaign.

Multiple local and regional face-to-face meetings were held with Indigenous representatives, as well as youth, special interest groups, other government organizations and regional stakeholders. Details on participation are outlined in each park summary.

What we heard

While each of the mountain parks sought input from regional Indigenous groups, stakeholders, partners and other Canadians , common themes emerged from the input provided. The following is a summary of these themes. Detailed What We Heard summaries for each individual mountain park are also available below.


What we heard from Indigenous Peoples

Representatives of Indigenous groups are engaged in ongoing conversations regarding management planning in the mountain national parks. Through early discussions, key themes arose regarding the desire for recognition within future management plans that their cultures, spiritual identities and ways of life are rooted in their attachment to and stewardship of the land. A summary of common themes heard are listed below.

Involvement and Park Management

Groups noted that it is important to build strong relationships over time based on open dialogue that involves all levels from Chief and Council to Elders, youth, and community members.

Indigenous peoples want to be involved in decisions regarding park operations and management. Examples of ways to achieve this include collaborating on field work, planning, delivering projects, monitoring and evaluation, as well as incorporating ceremony and following cultural protocols in various aspects of park management.

Indigenous peoples expressed a strong desire for continued involvement in management planning. Groups highlighted that Parks Canada needs to better understand and respect proper protocols when seeking to engage Indigenous groups, have cultural awareness training for staff and show openness to using Indigenous approaches to working together.

Authentic Presentation

Indigenous peoples expressed that the authentic integration and presentation of Indigenous histories, languages, artwork and cultures within the mountain parks is important moving forward. This includes working with Parks Canada as well as with businesses and regional decision makers. They stated that they would like to provide more opportunities for park visitors to learn about Indigenous cultures and histories from Indigenous peoples themselves. Suggested ways of moving forward include improving interpretation, story sharing and signage within the parks, and ensuring Indigenous artwork and crafts within the parks are authentic.

Caring for the Land

Caring for the land came through as a common theme in discussions with Indigenous peoples. This showed up as an underlying theme in multiple areas including sharing stories, histories and cultures in the parks; to being part of park management; to concerns about climate change.

Indigenous groups shared that valuing and profiling Indigenous Knowledge would strengthen appreciation and understanding of the area for all visitors. They also shared the desire to be part of environmental stewardship, studies and assessments as a way to rebuild relationships and ties to the land.

Some Indigenous participants expressed concern about climate change and its environmental impacts. Participants stated that addressing this issue is urgently needed and that Parks Canada should place more importance on taking care of the land for future generations. Some groups also suggested that the parks could be used as places to teach people about climate change.

Access

Indigenous participants emphasized the importance of being able to use and access the lands within national parks for traditional, spiritual and wellness reasons, and identified barriers to accessing traditional resources and locations. Indigenous peoples indicated a wish to work with Parks Canada to improve access.

Employment opportunities

Indigenous peoples stated an interest in employment opportunities through field-based training programs, contracting and leasing, and assistance navigating the Agency’s hiring process.


What we heard from stakeholders and the general public

A number of central themes were identified during stakeholder and public engagement. These groups shared their thoughts and ideas on a wide range of topics including Indigenous presence within the parks, ecological integrity, visitation levels, and wilderness management. A summary of common themes, guiding principles and values for the future are listed below.

Guiding principles and values for the future

Public and stakeholder respondents stated that protection of ecological integrity should continue as the guiding principle for future management and decision-making. They wish to see clear consideration for ecological thresholds and for Parks Canada to use precautionary measures where these thresholds are not known. It was suggested that park management plans should recognize the importance of ecosystem services that national parks provide to areas beyond their boundaries.

Other key principles that respondents want to see applied to future park management actions and decisions include:

  • using science as a basis for decisions;
  • ensuring public interest takes precedence over private interests;
  • being publicly transparent and accountable;
  • fostering accessibility and inclusivity;
  • using landscape-level management and working across boundaries;
  • ensuring quality verses quantity (of experiences); and,
  • engaging respectfully with Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous Presence

Many respondents recognized the importance of supporting Indigenous peoples in reconnecting to their traditional territories in the park, as well as having their histories, cultures and languages as a visible presence in the park. Respondents wish to see meaningful participation of Indigenous groups and the inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge in park management.

Climate change

Climate change was one of the topics most frequently mentioned by public and stakeholder participants. Understanding and adapting to the effects of climate change on human use of the parks and on all natural systems was cited as a key issue. Respondents expressed that this should be a key consideration for all future park planning and decision-making.

There was a desire to see Parks Canada establish itself as a leader in climate change research and education. Potential courses of action which respondents flagged for Parks Canada’s attention included:

  • Placing emphasis on fire, watershed and conservation management;
  • Taking action to become a leader in green initiatives (example: fossil fuel use, encouraging businesses to also take action);
  • Linking local changes to larger trends and patterns and share this information widely;
  • Using research in the mountain parks to contribute to an understanding of the impacts of climate change within the park boundaries and to guide collaboration with governments and partners;
  • Improving education on climate change—there are concrete examples that can be pointed to within the mountain parks; and
  • • Encouraging businesses to adhere to higher environmental protection standards.
Ecological integrity

A majority of respondents from the public and stakeholder groups clearly supported ecological integrity as Parks Canada’s first and foremost consideration in managing the mountain parks. Overall, respondents wanted to see Parks Canada make decisions guided by ongoing research and monitoring programs, and based on landscape-level management principles. Specific areas of suggested work are outlined below.

Respondents expressed concerns about the impact of visitors on the landscape and wildlife and wanted to see more protection of intact ecosystems. Suggestions to Parks Canada included: limiting access and managing visitation through seasonal areas closures, visitor quotas and public education. It was also stated that wildlife habituation and human-wildlife coexistence should also be a focus. Respondents wanted to see Parks Canada collecting more data on human-wildlife conflicts, and continuing to educate visitors on the significance of the parks, their ecosystems and how to enjoy them in a respectful manner.

The public expressed a concern about wildfire risk in relation to townsites, park use and visitor safety.

Respondents wanted to see Parks Canada taking action to prevent new threats and manage existing concerns from invasive species, insects and disease, and contribute to the long-term recovery of species at risk.

On lands adjacent to the parks, there were concerns about the effects of industrial development, logging, commercial tourism and the spread of invasive species. It was suggested that Parks Canada should work with other parks and across boundaries with neighbouring jurisdictions to tackle important ecological challenges and promote environmental stewardship at a landscape level.

Visitation levels and people management

While the protection of healthy ecosystems was of high importance to stakeholders and the general public, providing quality visitor experiences was also seen to be important. There was a desire to maintain authentic, nature-based experiences while improving accessibility (including but not limited to affordability, access for varying physical abilities and ease of access to certain areas of the parks). Respondents also wished to see Parks Canada respond to changing demographics of visitors, evolving recreational uses, new technologies, and increasing use of social media.

While perspectives varied significantly, managing the volume of visitors based on ecological carrying capacity was important to respondents. The specific sentiment expressed was that visitation and use of the park should not occur at the expense of natural resources. More popular sites within the parks were identified as overcrowded and there was concern regarding vehicle congestion on the roads and at these sites. Numerous tools or tactics for managing visitation levels were mentioned, including: increasing reach of public transportation, visitation caps, seasonal/area restrictions, differential fee structures, reservation systems, lotteries, reducing private vehicle access at some locations, etc. However, other respondents stated that there were already too many restrictions in the park and users’ right to access all parts of the park should not be further impeded.

Visitor education

Stakeholders and respondents from the general public recognized the importance and positive impact visitor education can have on the parks, and suggested that the focus should be placed on educating visitors on the significance of the parks and on how to enjoy them in a respectful manner. There was a desire to connect visitors to these special places and inspire them to be park stewards. Respondents offered a variety of ways in which Parks Canada could achieve these connections: youth programs, citizen science, story-telling, regular communication on how park management decisions are made, providing digital information that is easy to share and having more Parks Canada staff on the ground to interact with visitors.

Respondents wanted to learn more about topics such as Indigenous histories, cultural heritage, fire ecology, wildlife and climate change.

Development and wilderness management

Perspectives on development were varied from stakeholders and the general public. Overall, there was emphasis on low impact, nature and culture-based activities as more conducive to the character of national parks than infrastructure-based activities.

Improving, restoring and maintaining existing infrastructure, such as trails, bridges and campgrounds, was important to respondents. While many respondents felt that the current developed footprint should be maintained, there was some recognition that a modest increase in visitor infrastructure (specifically campsites, campgrounds and backcountry lodges) could be considered in some parks. There was support for continuing with limits to commercial development, maintaining fixed boundaries for ski areas and communities and the eligible residency guidelines in Banff and Jasper.

Transparency

Respondents from stakeholder groups and the general public urged Parks Canada to base management planning decisions on transparent, two-way communication with Indigenous groups, local residents, stakeholders and other Canadians.


Detailed summaries of what we heard

While common themes emerged from the mountain parks, each place has its unique set of opportunities and challenges. The following links contain summaries of input received by each mountain park.

Next steps

This What We Heard document is a summary of the comments and perspectives shared during the first round of discussions with Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public in the spring/early summer of 2019. This feedback is an integral part of management planning. Views and input from various people and organizations, including Indigenous peoples, local communities and visitors play an important role in helping to shape and develop park management plans.

Each park will draft their respective management plans over the fall/winter of 2019. Comments received will help identify key issues and guide the priorities to be addressed in the plans. This information, along with State of the Park Assessments, Parks Canada mandate and vision, government priorities, regulatory and policy obligations, previous national park management plans, research and trends, are all carefully considered and will inform the development of the individual mountain park management plans. At this stage, the direction outlined in the draft plans will also undergo a strategic environmental assessment to understand the cumulative impact of the plan’s direction and actions on the environment.

Once the draft management plans are complete, they will be made available for continued Indigenous comment and a second phase of stakeholder and public engagement and in early 2020. Following the second round of discussions with Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public , Parks Canada will consider this feedback as the park management plans are refined and finalized. The final management plans will be brought through the Parks Canada management planning approval process and recommended to the Minister for final approval and tabling in Parliament in fall of 2020.

Management planning is an example of how Parks Canada is involving Canadians in implementing its main priorities as identified through the Minister’s Round Table: to Protect and Restore national parks and historic sites; to enable people to further Discover and Connect with national parks and heritage; and to Sustain these places for generations to come.