Agency says opening for hiking season would be inconsistent with caribou recovery plans
The Maligne Lake Ski Club’s application for summer use of the historic Shangril-La cabin has been denied in the name of caribou conservation.
The decision, which was reached in June but only recently communicated to The Jasper Local, means that the 80-year-old cabin in the Jeffrey’s Creek drainage of the Maligne Valley will remain empty for 46 weeks of the year.
“Parks Canada …was not able to support [the MLCS’s] request … given the potential effects of summer operation on southern mountain caribou,” said Public Relations Officer Steve Young.
In 2015, to mitigate losses of club revenue after Jasper National Park implemented delayed winter access measures in much of the Maligne Valley, the MLSC submitted a proposal to Parks Canada requesting the use of their cabin in the summer. By opening the cabin to member bookings from July 1 to October 15, the club’s board had hoped to make the operation of Shangri-La more financially viable.
“With the shorter season there tends to be more costs associated,” said MLSC president, Jeff Weir.
Before caribou conservation measures were implemented in the Maligne Valley in 2014, Shangri-La’s license of occupation began in mid-December and ended in mid-April. Since the closures, which take place from November 1 to February 28, Shangri-La’s 17-week ski season has been cut down to just six. Because of that, the club raised its rates this year.
Operating for 14 weeks during the hiking season was an effort to boost revenues, Weir said, but also to put into practice the club’s mission: to support the stewardship of the outdoor environment.
“Those wilderness values are what draw us to the area, and some of these rare species are part of that,” he said.
The proposal included a suggestion to create a route which would have branched off the Skyline Trail. But according to Weir, Parks Canada ultimately saw that element as too intrusive in the sensitive alpine environment.
“Their thought was that hikers could spend more time going off trail in caribou areas,” Weir said.
Parks Canada confirmed that message: “The analysis concluded that summer operation of the cabin and associated recreational use would … contravene Species at Risk Act provisions protecting caribou and their critical habitat,” Young said.
Although their proposal was denied, the club is fully on board with conservation measures, Weir said. However, the MLSC wants to help make sure those measures are having an impact.
“If we’re going to move into caribou protection then we want go about it in a manner that is going to be successful,” he said.
Furthermore, Weir suggested that if that work isn’t successful, an entire generation won’t get to experience the very places which ingrain a deep sense of environmental stewardship.
“I’m concerned we’re limiting a whole generation of supporters of wilderness from learning and experiencing the landscape,” he said. “Those will be the future supporters of national parks and protected areas.”