Sunday, June 17, 2012

Banff National Park...Fragmented?

Banff National Park holds a very special place in my heart. Not only does it represent the birthplace of the National Parks as we know them in Canada, it is has been home since 2000.

My dad works for Parks Canada and growing up we were exposed to some of the most wild and amazing eco systems across the country.  Parks Canada strives to preserve the environmental integrity of all their protected areas. Historically this hasn’t always been their goal. The inception of Banff National Park, and the other mountain parks that followed suit became a destination for recreation as declared by Parks Commissioner J.B. Harkin.

After reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, I realized that Banff National Park is a perfect example of how the involvement of humans can drastically fragment a landscape. 

The construction of the Banff Springs Hotel in 1887 by CP Railways was the true testament to William Cornelius Van Horne’s infamous saying “ If you build it, they will come”. Visitors from all over the world ventured to the wild reaches of the Rocky Mountains to discover opportunities to express their art, to hike, to soak in the hot springs, and to discover first nations culture.

A town was born; museums, a zoo and curio exhibits erected, Indian Days commenced, and roads were paved linking visitors to destinations like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Jasper. Banff became a world-renowned tourist destination.

How did this affect the landscape? The roads segmented wildlife corridors, tourists began feeding wildlife and habituating them to cars and humans, lakes were doused in DEET to kill the mosquito population and an airstrip was built to increase accessibility.

Banff now is home to around 7000 permanent residents, with a seasonal population influx of around 3000 additional residents. The Trans-Canada highway, the 93 North, and the Bow Valley Parkway intersect the park. Visitors drive massive RVs, gas guzzling SUVs and pack the highways.

Not all change that comes to the Park is negative. With time, Parks Canada has adapted their mandate and is dedicated to the protection and the preservation of the collection of eco systems that make up the National Parks. In Banff, the highways include a series of wildlife under and over passes that allow safe crossings with proven success rates. Education is delivered to decrease the habituation of the animals that call the park home. Expansion of the Banff townsite has reached capacity and there is a limit to how high buildings can be. Certain trails in the park are closed at certain times of the year to allow the bears a chance to maximize their fitness.

A Wild Year-Wildlife Camera Magic!

Learning from mistakes has allowed Parks Canada to best represent the areas they strive to protect. In the future I hope that the evolution of Parks Canada continues to reflect positive change.

View from Deception Pass enroute to Skoki Lodge

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