The contiguous national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, with the adjoining Mount Robson, Hamber and Mount Assiniboine provincial parks (50°34'-53°28'N, 115°10'-119°32'W), are World Heritage Sites located at the continental divide of the central Rocky Mountains at their highest point. They protect 400 kilometers (km) of forested mountain landscape studded with dramatic peaks, glaciers, lakes, cascades, canyons and limestone caves,. The Burgess Shale fossil site, inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1980 and famous for its fossil remains of soft-bodied marine animals, is in Yoho National Park.
The parks are a 400 km long continuous belt of protected areas bestriding the central Rocky Mountains at their highest, along the British Columbia-Alberta border. They are from north to south: Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta, and Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in British Columbia which adjoin the provincial parks which are all in B.C.: Mount Robson Park and further south, Hamber Park lie west of Jasper National Park; Mount Assiniboine Park is between Banff and Kootenay Parks. The parks lie 100 km west of the city of Calgary, Alberta, easily accessible by main highways and railroads. 50°34'-53°28'N, 115°10'-119°32'W.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1885: 2600 hectares (ha) around the Cave and Basin mineral hot springs in Banff declared a park reserve;
- 1886: 2600 ha beside Mt Stephen set aside as Yoho Dominion Park; the area fluctuated till 1930;
- 1887: The Baniff area formally gazetted as Rocky Mountains Park (67,300 ha) under the Rocky Mountains Park Act; it was renamed and extended in 1930;
- 1907: Jasper Forest Park created (1,295,000 ha); its area also fluctuated until 1930;
- 1913: Mount Robson Provincial Park gazetted: 218,795 ha, extended in 1967 by 739 ha;
- 1920: Kootenay Park gazetted (land relinquished by the state in exchange for Federal Government grant to complete Highway 93, the parks’ main road): 152,000ha in 1930, since reduced;
- 1922: Mount Assiniboine: 5200 ha protected;
- 1930: The Rocky Mountains Park renamed Banff National Park and extended to 669,500 ha (5,400 ha excised in 1949); Jasper and Yoho Park areas also finally determined;
- 1941: Hamber declared a Provincial Park (1,009,112 ha) but reduced to present size in 1961/62;
- 1973: Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park extended to protect the watershed, alpine areas, and to link the park to Banff and Kootenay National Parks;
- 1980: The Burgess shale fossil site in Yoho Park made a World Heritage site.
The total area of the World Heritage Site is 2,312,216 ha and includes:
- Jasper National Park 1,087,800 ha
- Banff National Park 664,080 ha
- Kootenay National Park 140,600 ha
- Yoho National Park 131,300 ha
- Mount Robson Provincial Park 224,866 ha
- Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park 39,052 ha
- Hamber Provincial Park 24,518 ha
Contiguous local and provincial parks in Alberta, from north to south:
- Willmore Wilderness Park 459,671 ha
- Ghost River Wilderness Area 15,317 ha
- White Goat Wilderness Area 44,457 ha
- Kananaskis Provincial Park 50,308 ha
- Siffleur Wilderness Area 41,215 ha
The National Parks occupy federal land. The Provincial Parks occupy British Columbian provincial crown land.
From 1,036 meters (m) to 3,954 m (Mount Robson).
The central Canadian Rocky Mountains are a high massif of sedimentary rock dating from the Precambrian to Cretaceous periods, oriented northwest-southeast along the Continental Divide. They consist of the Western Ranges, the Main Ranges, the Front Ranges and the eastern Foothills. The Western Ranges in the provincial]parks, the southern part of Kootenay and western part of Yoho include formations of folded thick shales. The Main Ranges form the Continental Divide and are present in all the parks. They are formed of limestone, dolomite, sandstone and shale and include nearly all the highest mountains including Mounts Robson, Columbia, Forbes, Alberta and Assiniboine which all exceed 3,600 m. In the Main Ranges of Yoho Park fossil beds in the Burgess Shale layer of the Stephen Formation occur which are of special interest as they show evolution in action during the mid-Cambrian period. The Front Ranges in Banff and Jasper Parks are composed of thick layers of limestone and shale. These mountain ranges often have a tilted, tooth-like appearance: Mt. Rundle in Banff and Roche Miette in Jasper Parks are characteristic. The Foothills make up the easternmost extensions of the Rockies and only occur in a small southeastern portion of Jasper Park.
Active glaciers and icefields still exist throughout the region, particularly in the Main Ranges. The Columbia Icefield is the largest in North America's subarctic interior. Covering 325 square kilometers (km2), it spans the Continental Divide and the boundary between Jasper and Banff Parks and is regarded as the hydrographic apex of North America. The parks contain the headwaters to four major river systems: the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca Rivers which flow northeast and the Columbia and Fraser Rivers which flow southwest. The park waters of Yoho and Kootenay flow to the Pacific Ocean through the Columbia drainage, those of Mount Robson, via the headwaters of the Fraser River. Hamber Park contains Fortress Lake watershed. There are numerous lakes in Mount Assiniboine Park, most of which are located in broad alpine valleys and plateaus in glacially scoured depressions in the limestone bedrock.
The soils are generally shallow and immature, but marked variations do occur. In Jasper, chernozems are found on steep subalpine grassland slopes, whilst podzols are found in upland areas and gleys in poorly drained areas. At Lake Louise in Banff, the soils consist of moraine material.
The Parks experience continental cool summer to subarctic conditions, where temperatures can range from 30°C in the summer to -30°C in the winter. In the valleys, mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures are 8.6°C and -3.3°C respectively, while at higher altitudes temperatures are generally five to seven degrees cooler. Annual rainfall is 250 millimeters (mm). Annual snowfall at lower elevations is 160 mm; at higher elevations and along the continental divide, it is 650 mm.
The Rockies can be divided into three ecosystems: alpine meadow, sub-alpine grassland with non-vegetated surfaces, and wetlands. Floral species counts in Banff and Jasper Parks indicate about 996 vascular plants, 243 mosses, 407 lichens and 53 liverworts. Montane vegetation extends over some 18,432 ha and occurs in major valley bottoms, on the foothills and sun-exposed slopes of lower mountainsides, especially in the front ranges. Forest cover, generally found between 1,200 m and 1,800 m, ranges from 50.09% in Banff Park and 58.21% in Yoho to 77.07% in Kootenay. The first two have less cover because they are located on the drier Front range. Typical species include Douglas fir Pseudotsuga menziesii, white spruce, Picea glauca, aspen Populus tremuloides and poplar Populus balsamifera. Montane wetlands and meadows occupy areas next to major rivers such as the Bow and Red Deer valleys in Banff and Athabasca and Brazeau River valleys in Jasper. Typical species include lodgepole pine Pinus contorta, which rapidly colonises after fire, and aspen; black spruce Picea mariana is occasionally found along these river valleys.
The subalpine ecosystem occupies mountainsides between 1,800 m and 2,100 m, and valley bottoms at high elevation. This is the most extensive ecoregion in the Rockies and can be subdivided into lower and upper subalpine occupying 69,120 ha and 46,080 ha, respectively. The principal forest community of the lower subalpine zone comprises Engelmann spruce Picea engelmannii, limber pine Pinus flexilis and lodgepole pine P.contorta. Subalpine fir Abies lasiocarpa dominates the upper subalpine zone, although it thins towards the treeline. South of Bow Pass, pure stands of Lyall's larch Larix lyalli dominate the upper limit of this ecoregion.
The alpine ecosystem occurs above the treeline and covers an area of about 13,824 ha. It is characterized by diminutive hardy vegetation such as low-growing willow Salix arctica and dwarf birch Betula glandulosa, heath Cassiope tetragona, mountain avens Dryas integrifolia, D. hookeriania, sedge Carex nigricans, Kobresia bellardii, Phyllodoce glandulifolia and Antennaria lanata. Around Emerald Lake in Yoho, pockets of wetbelt forest typical of the Pacific Coast region can be found. Species include western red cedar Thule plicata, western hemlock Tsuga heterophylla and western yew Taxus brevifolia, all at the extreme easternmost extent of their range. Vascular plants found in Mt. Assiniboine park include American alpine smelowskia Smelowskia calycina, Raynold's sedge Carex raynoldsii, Cusick's Indian paintbrush Castilleja cusickii, stalked-pod locoweed Oxytropis podocarpa, sub-alpine grassland Saussurea nuda and apetalous campion Silene uralensis attenuata. Those found within Mt. Robson park include low sandwort Atenaria longipedinculata, slender Indian paintbrush Castilleja gracillima, western Indian paintbrush C. occidentalis, sulphur indian paintbrush C. sulphurea and arctic cinquefoil Potentilla hyparctica.
56 mammalian species are recorded. Characteristic species found in alpine meadows include Rocky mountain goat Oreamos americanus, bighorn sheep Ovis canadensis, northern pika Ochotona princeps and hoary marmot Marmota caligata. Forest mammals include moose Alces alces, mule deer Odocoileus hemionus, white-tailed deer O. viriginianus, caribou Rangifer tarandus, red deer Cervus canadensis and red squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus. Carnivores include grey wolf Canis lupus, grizzly bear Ursos arctos horribilis, black bear U. americanus, wolverine Gulo gulo luscus (VU), lynx Felis lynx canadensis and puma F. concolor.
Some 280 avifaunal species have been seen, including northern three-toed woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, white-tailed ptarmigan Lagopus leucurus, grey jay Perisoreus canadensis, mountain bluebird Sialia currucoides, Clark's nutcraker Nucifraga columbiana, golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, mountain chickadee Parus gambeli and rock pipit Anthus spinoletta). Other fauna recorded includes one species of toad, three species of frog, one species of salamander and two species of snake. The tiny Banff Springs snail Physella johnsoni, discovered in 1926, is listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. It only inhabits five warm mineral springs on Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park.
Since prehistoric times, the Kootenay valley has served as a major north-south travel route. The Kootenai Indians settled in the region about 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. Pictographs found near the hot springs indicate this was a meeting place for plain and mountain bands. Banff's Vermillion Lakes is one of Canada's oldest known archaeological sites, at 10,500 B.P, and some pre-historic artifacts in Jasper have been dated to 9,000 B.P. European fur traders and explorers first reached the area in the 1800's seeking transportation routes through the high mountain passes. They were followed by homesteaders and entrepreneurs who realized the commercial potential of developing areas such as Radium Hot Springs.
Local Human Population
According to the 2001 census, the population of Banff was 7,716, of Jasper, 4,700, of Lake Louise, 1,500 and of Field approximately 300, largely dependent on tourism, logging and maintenance of the parks.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
Between eight and ten million people annually visit the World Heritage Site. Facilities include picnic sites, downhill ski-areas, souvenir shops, restaurants and service stations. There is a wide range of accommodations including over 30 campgrounds, 12 hostels and 25 outlying commercial accommodation facilities. Year-round visitor centers and hotels are located in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Field. Seasonal visitor centers are located at the Columbia Icefield and in Radium Hot Springs near the west entrance to Kootenay National Park. Mount Robson Provincial Park visitor center is located at the west entrance to the park.
Scientific Research and Facilities
Research is carried out in the following topics: fire ecology, grizzly bear, lynx, cougars, wolverines, the biology and ecology of ungulates, aquatic ecosystems, small mammals, birds, amphibians, forest fragmentation, ecological land classification, tourism and recreation, and fossil research.
The area has outstanding natural beauty, floral and faunal diversity, and is a prime example of ongoing geological processes such as glaciation and canyon formation. The Rocky Mountains are also regionally important to ensure the protection of heritage resources and large tracts of wilderness.
Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks are administered by the Canadian government under the National Parks Act. This Act was amended in 2000 to make ecological integrity its first priority. Boundaries for communities in National Parks were set and development was capped. Community plans for Jasper, Lake Louise and Field were completed in 2000.
The Parks Canada Agency which is responsible for the management of all Canada's national parks and national historic sites, operates within the Department of Canadian Heritage. The Agency participates in cooperative programs with other federal and provincial agencies. Such programs include pine beetle control, wildlife monitoring, fire management and search and rescue. In 1996 the minister responsible for Parks Canada commissioned a study of the Banff-Bow valley to ascertain the state of the environment in the core of Banff National Park. In 1999 the minister commissioned a second study, on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks. Reports produced as a result of these studies provide direction for management plans and strategies.
Management plans for Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks were completed between 1997 and 2000. For management purposes the national parks are divided into five zones. Zone I, Special Preservation Areas where access and use are strictly controlled, cover 3% of the land. Zone II, Wilderness, where only activities requiring primitive facilities are permitted, covers 94% of the land. Zone III, Natural Environment, where low-density outdoor recreation is permitted, occupies 3%. Zone IV, Outdoor Recreation, provides for higher intensity recreation with supporting infrastructure such as downhill ski-areas. Zone V, Park Services: the service centers, towns and major infrastructure such as highways and railroads.
Mount Robson, Hamber and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Parks are administered by the government of British Columbia according to the provisions of the Parks Act. BC Parks, within the provincial Ministry of Water, Lands and Air Protection, prepares management plans, sets out objectives and actions for the conservation, development, interpretation and operation of provincial protected areas for ten to twenty year periods. Its management plans, based on current information about natural and cultural values, recreation opportunities and resource activities in surrounding lands, divide the provincial parks into four zones: wilderness conservation, natural environment, wilderness recreation and intensive recreation. For Mount Robson Provincial Park these zones are: wilderness conservation 58%, wilderness recreation 22%, natural environment 16% and intensive recreation 3%.
Much of the land bordering British Columbia and Alberta is designated for multiple resource use which includes logging, oil and gas extraction and recreation. The roads serving these activities are have increased public access to formerly remote areas. This is particularly evident at Ensign Creek, Yoho where logging has brought access roads very close to Amiskwi Wilderness Area which is adjacent to the park boundary. Within Jasper, the construction of Highway 16, the Canadian National Railway and the Trans-Mountain Pipeline have had a profound hydrological effect on the lower Athabasca and Miette River valleys. The aesthetic impact of the Yellowhead River corridor and wildlife mortality are also a problem: about 1,000 animals were killed between 1970 and 1980.
One of the biggest threats facing the parks is that of the development encouraged by increased tourism. The townsite region of Jasper is an ecologically important area located at the junction of three watersheds. During the winter, wildlife concentrates in the area but development has led to a disturbance in ungulate migration routes around the town, the destruction of key habitats as well conflicts between bears and humans. Regular proposals for expansion of the four downhill ski resorts in the parks are made and continue to cause controversy.
Banff: 225 full-time employees; Jasper: 200; Lake Louise, in Banff National Park: 200. Kootenay and Yoho Parks are managed as one field unit with Lake Louise.
Banff: C$9,12,000,000; Jasper: C$11,000,000; Kootenay, Yoho and Lake Louise, C$10,500,000. The three provincial parks are budgeted regionally, not by separate parks.
IUCN Management Category
- Jasper National Park II National Park
- Banff National Park II National Park
- Kootenay National Park II National Park
- Yoho National Park II National Park Mount Robson Provincial Park II National Park
- Hamber Provincial Park II National Park
- Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park I National Park
- National Parks World Heritage Sites inscribed in 1984. Natural Criteria i, ii, iii
- B.C.Provincial Parks added to the inscribed sites in 1990.
- Banff-Bow Valley Task Force (Page,R.,Bayley,S.,Cook,J.,Green,J. & Ritchie,J.) (1996). Banff-Bow Valley: At the Crossroads. Summary report of the Banff-Bow Valley Study. Prepared for the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Ottawa, ON. 76pp.
- BC Parks (2002).
- BC Parks Division (1987). Hamber Provincial Park Master Plan. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Land and Parks.
- BC Parks Division (1989). Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park Master Plan. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Land and Parks.
- BC Parks Division (1992). Mount Robson Provincial Park Master Plan. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Land and Parks.
- Gadd, B. (1986). Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. Corax Press, Jasper, Alberta. ISBN: 0969263112.
- Government of Canada (2000). The Canada National Parks Act, Ottawa, Queen's Printer.
- Natural Resources Canada. 1:50,000 topographic maps, all areas.
- Parks Canada Agency (2000a). Response to July 22,2002 Request for Information Update on Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. Banff, Alberta.
- Parks Canada Agency (2000b). Unimpaired for Future Generations? Protecting Ecological Integrity with Canada's National Parks Vol.1 Call to Action. Vol.2 Setting a New Direction for Canada's National Parks. Report on the Ecological Integrity of Canada's National Parks. Ottawa, Ontario.
- Parks Canada www.parkscanada.gc.ca.
- Parks Canada (1997) Banff National Park Management Plan. Canadian Heritage
- Parks Canada Agency (2000c). Jasper National Park Management Plan. Minister of Supply & Services Canada.
- Parks Canada Agency (2000d). Kootenay National Park Management Plan. Minister of Supply & Services Canada.
- Parks Canada Agency (2000e). Yoho National Park Management Plan. Minister of Supply & Services Canada.
- Statistics Canada (2002).
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