Lake Louse Ski Area Fined $2.1 million for Unlawful Removal of Endangered Whitebark Pine Trees
On November 30, 2018, Lake Louise Ski Area Ltd. (LLSA) was fined $2.1 million for the unlawful removal and destruction of 140 trees, including 39 whitebark pines, which are listed as an endangered species on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC). The case dates back to 2014, when Parks Canada received a report that whitebark pine trees had been cut down at the ski resort. Whitebark pine, which is found in the high elevation forest ecosystems of the Rocky and Columbia Mountain chains, is declining throughout its range due to the combined effects of climate change, long-term fire suppression, mountain pine beetle outbreaks and white pine blister rust.
Following the Parks Canada investigation, two charges were laid under SARA and the Canada National Parks Act for the removal and destruction of a species at risk and for the damage and destruction of flora in a national park without the appropriate permit. In December 2017, LLSA pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta and was convicted of the two offences.
In her judgment (R v The Lake Louise Ski Area Ltd., 2018 ABPC 280), Judge Heather Lamoureux said that: “There is a cumulative impact on the whitebark pine with potential risk of undermining the survival of the species in the decades to come.” Judge Lamoureux also noted that the trees were cut in a national park, the resort failed to ensure its employees knew the whitebark pine was endangered and the trees that were destroyed were all healthy. Ultimately, Judge Lamoureux concluded that: “The risk of harm was easily foreseeable given LLSA’s knowledge of standard ski hill operation involving ski trail maintenance.”
This case highlights the importance of having robust training and environmental management procedures in place to avoid or mitigate the impacts of regulatory offences. Although LLSA made changes to its training practices after the incident, the Court found that the training outlined in the evidence of LLSA management should have been implemented before the offence occurred as LLSA had sufficient prior knowledge of its statutory duties to protect flora in the National Park, including whitebark pine. The Court concluded that the actions of the summer trail crew, who had absolutely no knowledge about whitebark pine, were caused by the failure of LLSA to properly train and educate its own employees and to provide them with the knowledge that it had with respect to the special status of the whitebark pine. While LLSA was cooperative during the investigation and it worked with the Crown to prepare a joint remediation proposal for the Court as part of the sentencing process, the Court said that it is the fact that the environmental activities and education that LLSA undertook subsequent to the commission of the offence, should reasonably have been part of steps implemented before the offence occurred.
LLSA has said that it intends to appeal the decision. The fines paid by LLSA will be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund to support environmental programs.