Two conservation groups are asking a federal judge to scrap the controversial plan to allow a private company to build overnight cabins in Jasper National Park, saying that could lead to more development in other parks across Canada.
“Canadians visit our parks for pristine natural beauty and not to visit the industrialized or commercialized sites,” said Alison Ronson, executive director of the Canadians Park and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Northern Alberta chapter.
In July, Parks Canada gave pre-approval to a proposal by Maligne Tours to build 15 tent cabins near Maligne Lake to provide overnight accommodations to visitors.
It was one of 13 proposals by the company that Parks Canada approved — the company’s proposal to build a luxury hotel in the park was rejected.
Final approval on all the projects will be decided after detailed designs are submitted.
CPAWS, along with the Jasper Environmental Association, filed an application with the Federal Court asking a judge to review the decision and reverse the approval of the development.
At the time of the decision, Parks Canada supervisor Greg Fenton told CBC News that the tent cabins were approved because they could be built with minimal impact.
“Tent cabins are smaller,” Fenton said. “There’s a smaller environmental footprint than fixed-roof cabins or hotels.”
However, Ronson says that the area around Maligne Lake is particularly fragile, and that any development there could threaten wildlife in the valley.
“(It’s) sensitive area. We know there is an endangered caribou herd, that's down to only four animals since the winter. And there's a sensitive grizzly population,” she said.
“So we're concerned that any more development in this area would have a very detrimental impact on them.”
Could set precedent for other parks, groups say
Ronson says that the plans go against Jasper National Park’s management plan. The latest version of the plan, dated 2010, says that no new land will be released outside the Jasper townsite for commercial development.
That plan would have to be amended to allow the cabins to be built. She worries that will set a precedent that will see more development, not just in Jasper, but in other parks.
“This decision is opening the floodgates to incremental commercial development in all of our national parks,” she said.
Parks Canada has not returned a request for comment.