IN THE MEDIA: Federal environment committee holds meetings in Banff and Jasper

By Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald


BANFF — Some members of a federal environment committee are in Banff and Jasper this week on a fact-finding mission to learn what works — and what doesn’t work — in Canada’s national parks.

From Monday to Wednesday, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development is holding private meetings with First Nations leaders, the mayors, business groups, conservationists and staff with Parks Canada in Banff and Jasper.

Both national parks have been experiencing record visitors in recent years.

“In those areas, we are looking specifically at the challenges between the high use and the natural environment,” said Deb Schulte, chairwoman of the all-party committee and a Liberal MP in Ontario. “Protected spaces (are) generally protected for nature, but the use and the supports that are required for that use are impacting nature.

“It’s degrading the environment. How do we find a balance for that and still make those parks a destination for Canadians?”

The assessment of federal protected areas and conservation objectives, one of several studies by the committee, has already met with several environmental groups and other stakeholders in Ottawa over the past couple of months...

Conservationists and business groups said they appreciated the opportunity to speak to the committee, which is also looking at the bigger picture of how to protect more natural areas in order to meet an international target by 2020.

“There are two big things,” said Harvey Locke, a national parks expert who lives in Banff. “How are we going to meet our obligation to protect 17 per cent of the land and 10 per cent of the oceans of Canada?

“We’re lagging badly as a country and we need to pick up our socks and get at it.”

As for Banff, Locke said he wanted to remind the committee that it’s a national park — not a place for competing interests and development for personal gain.

“Banff is bursting at the seams with demands,” he said, noting he would raise concerns about the Lake Louise ski hill expansion and the proposed bike trail from Banff to Jasper. “Those things are absurd.

“We need to be keeping our parks intact, not putting more pressure on.”...

Schulte said all of the information they receive at the hearings would be taken back to Ottawa and presented at the committee next week, before they draft a report with recommendations to the federal government this fall.

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