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Minister should reject bike trail

The proposed bike trail will parallel Highway 93 also known as the Icefields Parkway. Parks Canada image.

The proposed bike trail will parallel Highway 93 also known as the Icefields Parkway. Parks Canada image.

Anyone who has lived in Jasper long enough knows by now that the number one priority for Parks Canada is to protect the ecological integrity of Canada’s national parks, yet time and time again it seems that this priority plays second fiddle to development.

The latest example is the proposed Icefields Trail project. The project envisions building a paved bike trail from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield, cutting through critical habitat for grizzly bears, woodland caribou, the common nighthawk and whitebark pine, all of which are listed to varying degrees under the Species At Risk Act.

While these animals might get the most attention because of their perilous situation, let’s not forget about other animals, such as black bears, wolves and sheep, not to mention the thousands of lodgepole pine trees that will be cut down.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

On top of this, when Parks Canada initially released details about the project it said it would have no net ecological or culture impact. It’s hard to image how cutting down thousands of trees and paving a 107-km swath of forest will not damage the environment.

Initially as a newspaper we were inclined to support the trail, but after listening to environmentalists, attending public consultations and reviewing hundreds of internal documents between Parks Canada staff, it’s clear that this bike trail has no place in a national park.

Here’s why.

According to Parks Canada’s charter, the agency’s first priority is to protect “the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole.”

Supporters of the bike path will undoubtedly point to another part of charter’s mandate which states Parks also has a duty to “foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment” of Canada’s national parks.

While this is indeed true, it doesn’t negate the fact the agency’s number one priority is to protect the park’s ecological integrity. Full stop.

In March, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna made it clear during a meeting in Banff that she sees ecological integrity as a top priority.

In fact, she went as far as saying that protecting ecological integrity will be front and centre in every decision she makes.

If she truly means what she says, rejecting the Icefields Trail project should be a no-brainer.

Public consultations for the Icefields Trail project will wrap up on April 24. From mid-July to mid-August, the draft version of the direct impact analysis will be available for review and by September a decision will be made.

Let’s hope the minister remembers what she said in Banff when she sits down to make her decision.

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