Illegal swim damages rare snail habitat in Banff National Park

Park officials are asking the public for information after a swimmer damaged the habitat of an endangered species of tiny snails.

Offender could face fine up to $50,000 and jail time

Parks Canada resource conservation manager Bill Hunt says going in the protected pools violates the National Parks Act and the Species at Risk Act. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The habitat of an endangered species of tiny snails found only in Banff National Park has been damaged after a swimmer took an illegal dunk into a pool at Sulphur Mountain.

Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager at Parks Canada, said that swim resulted in damage to the home of one most at-risk species in the park: the Banff Springs snail.

Hunt said Parks Canada is looking for information about the offender, who could face thousands of dollars in fines, or even jail time. The following is an excerpt from Hunt's interview with CBC's The Homestretch

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview here.

Q: What happened?

A: Around 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 3, Cave and Basin staff at the national historic site received a report that a man appeared to have been swimming in a pool, located at the end of what's known as the cave.

[Staff] weren't able to track down the individual, but they did remember the person coming in. We've got a bit of information, and we're just looking for any information from the public that might help us with this investigation.
The Banff Springs snail is about half the size of a kernel of corn and is found only in Banff National Park. (CBC)
A: We don't have any confirmed deaths of snails, fortunately. The algal mat was definitely disturbed and this is the critical habitat.
Bill Hunt says there are signs around the site warning people not to enter the pool. (CBC)

Any time that gets disturbed, thrown aside or washed downstream, it definitely affects snails and snail habitat.

Q: Can you tell us more about these snails? What are they, and why are they at risk?

A: The Banff Springs snail is found nowhere else in the world. These are found only in seven different pools, along the slopes of Sulphur Mountain just below the upper hot [pool] where you can go for a soak.

We encourage people to come in, and respectfully you can view the snails and see them in their natural habitat.

Q: How can you prevent this from happening, short of closing it down?

A: We rely on education and making sure people understand why it's important.

We have a number of [signs] around the site that helps people understand that as well. And then thirdly, when the cave is open, of course we have staff roving and patrolling as well. We've had about three incidents in the last seven years. It's a fairly rare occurrence, but it's certainly something we try to discourage.
An inside view of Cave and Basin. Last week, staff at the national historic site received a report that a man appeared to have been swimming in a pool. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

Q: What happens to the swimmer if they're found?

A: This is a contravention under the National Parks Act and under the Species at Risk Act.

They could face a fine of up to $50,000 or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

Anyone with information is asked to call Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.


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