Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to speak before the committee today. I am honoured to be here.
My name is Monica Andreeff and I am the executive director of the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment, AMPPE.
We're a non-profit association that advocates for a balance between sustainable tourism, ecological integrity, visitor experience, and education in Canada's mountain parks. Our members include ordinary skiers, hikers, and cyclists, as well as tourism businesses, ski areas, and hotel operators.
For 18 years AMPPE has been the voice of balance, speaking for Canadians who want the opportunity to enjoy national parks. We are based in Banff, where Canada's first national park was created more than 125 years ago.
The Canada National Parks Act states that parks are “dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment”. It's clear that national parks were created and protected for future generations of Canadians to use and enjoy. The intention was not to protect parks from Canadians.
However, as the cultural landscape of Canada shifts, national parks are in danger of becoming irrelevant to new Canadians, technology-centred youth, and people who live in urban areas. Visitors no longer want to simply drive through parks, take a snapshot, and continue driving. People need to connect with the wilderness through outdoor adventure activities that give them meaning and form a lasting impression. Otherwise, Parks Canada is at risk of becoming irrelevant to its core funding base, Canadian taxpayers.
Parks Canada is changing and moving in the right direction with learn-to-camp programs for new Canadians and youth-oriented visitor projects. There are volunteer programs in Banff and Jasper national parks to introduce hundreds of Canadians and international visitors to local conservation projects, wildlife monitoring, and assorted research programs every summer.
Parks Canada has also approved guidelines for new recreational activities so that they can be pursued in a way that enhances conservation and culture. Banff Mount Norquay's proposed via ferrata will provide an entry-level mountaineering program that is safe for all ages and abilities. Via ferrata is extremely popular in Quebec and Europe, and it's an exciting outdoor activity that can be combined with education about the conservation of this unique wilderness environment.
The Brewster glacier discovery walk, which is slated to open next year, is located on the highway between Lake Louise and Jasper. It will be a fully accessible interpretive walkway that provides stunning views and teaches people about glaciology, global warming, aboriginal culture, and the early exploration of the Canadian Rockies.
It's an uphill battle to balance recreational use and visitor experience with protecting the wilderness and wildlife, but progress is being made. Unfortunately, Parks Canada faces constant and unjustified criticism from a small vocal minority more concerned about exclusion rather than inclusion.
These critics are interested in limiting people's use and widespread public enjoyment of these national recreation areas. Unfortunately, these tactics erode public support for national parks, which are important to Canadian identity and a symbol of our nation respected around the world.
AMPPE believes there is no place for elitist points of view in national parks. Not everyone can hoist a heavy backpack and go camping in the wilderness for three or four days. New Canadians may not have the skill set and it's almost impossible for families with small children. It's not just one national park for one type of Canadian. We need to provide a wide range of activities for all kinds of people—old, young, disabled, urban, and new Canadians.
Banff and Jasper have great value in being among the most accessible and most visited national parks in the country. They provide excellent visitor services, recreational opportunities, and amenities in two small communities, unlike more remote national parks that might see a few dozen people in a week.
Banff and Jasper national parks have millions of visitors each year, being located close to large urban populations in Edmonton and Calgary, similar to the tremendous prospects for Rouge national park.
The goal of connecting urban Canadians with conservation is to foster an understanding of human impacts and how you can manage urban life differently. It can inspire appreciation of, visits to, and support for larger protected areas, such as national and provincial parks. Young urban dwellers can become energized about nature, so they see it as relevant to modern life and it may help them engage and become passionate about conservation.
To examine urban conservation practices in Canada, one might start with a look at the two unique national park towns of Banff and Jasper, which are located within a UNESCO world heritage site. They are models for environmental management, sustainable development and tourism, and reflect the fundamental practices of national parks. Banff and Jasper recognize, protect from development, and in some cases, enhance environmentally sensitive areas within the fixed town boundaries.
Both towns have superb environmental sustainability plans and introduce environmental education and interpretive opportunities for visitors and residents.
Banff's environmental protection district is land that is capable of supporting a diversity of native wildlife and does not allow for any human development. Protected wildlife corridors stretch 500 metres wide around some neighbourhoods.
The town of Canmore, a community bordering Banff National Park to the east, is not subject to national park regulations, yet it engages in ongoing dialogue with conservation organizations on wildlife corridors and ways to protect these areas during the planning application review.
Canmore has established an urban growth boundary which identifies areas of ecological importance. The municipal land use bylaw identifies three zones of protected space: natural park district, environment district, and wild lands conservation district. The federal government can play an important role in encouraging urban conservation through funding assistance and legislation to maintain and protect those areas that do not directly contribute to the municipal tax base.
Parks Canada is mandated to protect the ecological integrity of Canada's iconic national parks, but this mandate needs to be balanced equally with visitor experience and education.
Not all national parks are created equal, and national parks near large urban populations such as Banff, Jasper, and now Rouge, can play a special role in fostering a culture of conservation. They are heavily visited by populations from cities and therefore the mandate to educate and provide sought-after activities should be paramount. People come to do and not just to see.
People who engage with national parks through high-quality visitor experiences and recreational opportunities will adopt the philosophy of urban conservation over time. Success will be determined by balancing the challenges of use and protection.
In conclusion, changes are needed to the National Parks Act and Parks Canada's mandate to recognize the importance of visitor experience and education, and ensure that it is balanced equally with ecological protection. The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment encourages the committee to give consideration to this suggestion and the future relevancy of our national park system for Canadians.
Thank you for your time.