The Lake Louise Ski Area was fined $2.1 million on November 30 for unlawfully removing and destroying 140 trees, including 39 endangered whitebark pines.
The investigation began in 2014, when Parks Canada park wardens received a report that whitebark pine trees, listed as an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act, had been cut down at the ski area. Their inspection showed that 140 trees, including 39 whitebark pines, had been unlawfully removed and destroyed on the ski area leasehold.
The Lake Louise Ski Area pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta in December 2017. The Lake Louise Ski Area was convicted for two charges under the Species at Risk Act and the Canada National Parks Act for the removal and destruction of the trees and damage and destruction of flora in a national park without an appropriate permit.
Lake Louise Ski Area brand and communications director Dan Markham said they did not expect the ruling and the hefty fine.
“We were quite surprised with the amount, which seemed considerably higher than precedents,” he said. “We were also very surprised for the reasons for the decision from the judge today.”
In court, Markham says it was clearly defined and acknowledged by the prosecution that there was no impact to the whitebark pine population, and he says the Lake Louise Ski Area will be putting in an application for an appeal as quickly as possible.
“It was determined by our experts and admitted by the prosecution that there was zero impact on the whitebark pine population,” he said.
The $2.1 million the Lake Louise Ski Area has been fined is intended to be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund, which is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The fund supports projects led by non-governmental organizations, universities and academic institutions, Indigenous groups, and provincial, territorial, and municipal governments.
The whitebark pine is listed as endangered in the Species at Risk Act, and by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Whitebark pine is an essential tree species in the high elevation forest ecosystems of the Rocky and Columbia Mountain chains. It is found in seven of Canada’s national parks. The survival of the whitebark pine has been threatened by the combined effects of long-term fire suppression, climate change, mountain pine beetle outbreaks, and white pine blister rust, which is a disease.