Climate change and ecology key elements of new management plan

·4 min read

One of the first tangible efforts that the public might notice behind Parks Canada’s new forward-thinking management plan for Jasper National Park is in the years-long work it has already spent toward restoring caribou herds.

“If folks are looking for what are the first things that they're going to see coming into this management plan, that one’s happening right now,” said Jasmine Ramratan, acting field unit superintendent.

Public input on that conservation breeding proposal ends on Friday.

The management plan, however, is meant to provide a decade-long vision into the future. Managing and contributing to help species at risk is only one of the key objectives in the long-term strategic document, Ramratan noted.

The new plan, tabled in parliament on Aug. 22, presents objectives and targets to guide park management and decision making. It's more of a high-level document than an action plan, focusing its view on the goalpost for several key strategies including the following:

● Conserving natural and cultural heritage for future generations;

● True-to-place experiences;

● Strengthening Indigenous relations;

● Connect, collaborate and learn together;

● Managing development; and

● Climate change and adaptation.

“With respect to climate change, in Jasper National Park, the effects of climate change are already becoming visible. We know that,” Ramratan said, adding that Parks Canada’s core mandate is to protect the park ecosystems for future generations.

“The objectives really speak to how Jasper National Park is going to collaborate, monitor, anticipate and understand the effects of climate change. There are some specific actions in there as well assessing how Jasper National Park would be able to take actions to reduce our carbon footprint, for example, and increase sustainability.”

During the two phases of consultation toward the plan, approximately 5,000 individuals visited the consultation website. Comments received through online surveys and letters counted in the several thousands. There were 22 different Indigenous partner communities and organizations that participated in consultation activities, while 17 different stakeholder organizations provided feedback.

Those ongoing collaborations and consultations with Indigenous partners have resulted in parks management initiatives like prescribed fire.

“Through our planning phases, there's specific topics that are brought to our partners, and we talk about those kinds of things,” Ramratan said.

“When we're talking about ecological integrity, we might be talking specifically one day about, or at one series of sessions, about prescribed fire, trying to incorporate Indigenous knowledge about prescribed fire on the landscape into how we do prescribed care today.”

The plan stipulates that the Jasper National Park Fire Management Plan from 2007 is to be updated with targets for fire restoration, wildfire management and the reduction of wildfire risk for the Jasper townsite and other valued assets within the park.

“Area burned through both prescribed fire and managed wildfire is at least 20 percent of the long-term fire cycle, taking into account climate change impacts and increasing fire frequency and severity. An average of 1,000 hectares per year of fire occurrence is achieved over any 20-year continuous period,” the plan states in Objective 1.5.

The report points out how climate change affects multiple aspects of Parks Canada's work, including the “longevity of built assets and cultural resources in the face of more extreme weather events, more frequent and intense wildfire seasons and changing visitation patterns.”

Visitation patterns have certainly increased since the last management plan, Ramratan continued. There have been notable demographic changes in those patterns as well in terms of proportions of domestic vs. international visitors, the durations of their stays here and what activities they participate in.

Managing visitation through transportation strategies and traffic management strategies is something that Parks Canada is considering.

“There are different strategies that different parks are putting in place, and Jasper's looking at those as well,” Ramratan said.

“As our visitation increases, and we know there are some places that are more popular than others, we're looking at how to have a good visitor experience or provide a good visitor experience when we know that these are very popular places.”

The 10-year plan was meant to be delivered in 2020 although the pandemic demanded that it be delayed until now.

“There's a number of activities that we would have normally done in person to provide the opportunity for our large stakeholder base to provide their comments and feedback, and that had to pivot during COVID,” Ramratan said.

The management plan for Jasper National Park mirrors those for Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks, including Rogers Pass National Historic Site, which were also tabled at the same time.

People can read and download their own copy of the 47-page vision document by visiting Parks Canada’s website and searching for “Jasper National Park of Canada Management Plan.”

It is meant to set a series of strategies and objectives that Parks Canada wants to achieve over the next 10 years, some of which are continuations thematically from the last management plan, and some are new.

“It's meant to bring Parks Canada into the future by talking about what we want to achieve and not necessarily specifically about how we're going to achieve it,” Ramratan said.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh