Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Newly formed Public Land Alliance questions Waterton watercraft ban

Public Land Alliance logo
Chris Davis - A newly formed organization is asking Waterton Lakes National Park to reconsider a ban on the use of motorized and trailer-launched watercraft in the park, which was announced in March of this year due to fears of an possible invasive species infestation, with exceptions for park employees and some public agencies.  A similar ban was announced in late 2016 by Glacier National Park on the U.S. side of the border.  Public Land Alliance (PLA) is a southern Alberta based organization formed in May of this year which has the motto “keep public lands in public hands”.

Parks Canada's March 17 press release announcing the ban reads in part as follows:

"To ensure the ongoing ecological integrity of Waterton Lakes National Park, Parks Canada has implemented a prohibition on the use of motorized and trailer-launched watercraft in the park.  Human-powered watercraft, including canoes, kayaks and other hand-launched watercraft will continue to be permitted, however, a mandatory self-inspection program will be implemented for these hand-launched watercraft. Motorized watercraft required for management purposes as well as the commercial boat tour operation will continue to operate on Upper and Middle Waterton Lake. These watercraft will be managed to ensure no risk of invasive mussel contamination.

The prohibition follows detection of invasive mussels (quagga or zebra), aquatic invasive species (AIS), in the Tiber Reservoir in Montana, U.S., less than a half-day’s drive from Waterton Lakes National Park. The most effective method to safeguard the ecological health of Waterton Lakes National Park from the devastating and permanent ecological and economic impacts of invasive mussels is to restrict motorized and trailer-launched watercraft in the park’s waters."

Click here to read the Parks Canada's press release in its entirety.

According to PLA representative Brittany Gerris the organization's members wish to remain anonymous at this time "as some are business owners and don’t want their businesses impacted in any way" and the organization's bio states "We have supporters throughout Alberta and into the United States. There are many instances where public lands are being denied access for recreational use in Alberta, throughout Canada, and shared border areas in the United States. These areas are labelled as public lands. These lands should be open for responsible recreational use including hiking, camping, boating, horse-back riding, off-road vehicles, and other activities."  PLA has several new social media feeds and a new website that is still under development.  According to Gerris "Public Land Alliance was formed in May of this year, but some of our members have been working on these causes for several years without making it a formal organization Our main objective is “keeping public lands in public hands.” This includes Waterton Lakes National Park, but also other issues, such as recreational use in Poll Haven. Another press release in regards to Poll Haven is in the works."

"There are about half a dozen citizens in Alberta and a few in Montana that are backing the cause. We are applying for non-profit status," said Gerris.

According to PLA's June 20 press release the ban fails "to adequately address boats owned by people living in Waterton. Most leaseholders and residents of Waterton and Glacier never leave the parks with their watercraft. As such, there is no risk to the waters, and programs already in place allow for proper verification of this.  There is also no evidence of mussels ever being found in Alberta or north of the Continental Divide in Montana, thus boats travelling only within this area are also completely safe. The boat dock rental business in Waterton will also suffer or be forced to shut its doors forever if an alternative solution is not put into action. Decontamination is a solution and PLA is willing to work with the national parks to set up inspection stations."

PLA suggests a similar decontamination plan to one implemented by Whitefish Lake Institute in Montana, which it suggests could allow for "motorized and non-motorized watercraft in both parks safely", and offers to help fund such an initiative.  "If money is the problem, PLA is willing to help raise the funds required to put a decontamination program into place this season, including additional staff requirements if necessary."

An April 2017 letter from a PLA member to Waterton Lakes National Park Superintendent Ifan Thomas reads in part as follows:

"I am writing with regards to the closure of the lakes in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana to motorized watercraft. My family has spent the past 50 years on the waters of Lake Macdonald as part of our annual vacation and have enjoyed and respected the use of the Park over those years. We also have an 80 year history in Waterton Lakes National Park with a family cottage and continue to keep our boat on that lake as well.

I have educated myself on the dangers of “invasive species” and understand the impact they pose on the environment. I have also taken the time to learn about what other areas are doing to minimize the possibility of contamination specifically with regards to recreational boating. I would put forward the following immediate suggestions that could be put in place to continue to allow the use of our federal lands for the benefit of all for the current year as well as in the future.

Whitefish Lake Institute has initiated the most comprehensive invasive species prevention program I have found to this point. Along the with the standard inspection stations they have purchased an “industry standard” decontamination unit that addresses the urgent and critical nature of the problem. The decontaminator will pressure wash a watercraft and/or obtain water temperatures in interior compartments such as ballast tanks to kill the microscopic life stage of zebra mussels thus eliminating any possibility of contamination to the lakes. They will be sealing the watercraft and issuing a certificate of inspection and decontamination. This includes exit seals so that the user will not have to go through the inspection process again if they will relaunch in the same lakes. Whitefish Lake will also be honoring watercraft seals from the State of Montana that will result in much reduced inspection on those boats as well. They are also implementing a sticker program for non motorized hand launched watercraft upon completion of an on-line module. In addition to this they have an intensive public education program as well. In a letter to me from Mr. Mike Koopal of the institute he stated that the unit will be located at a local Marine shop and would be available to the public based on priority given to those using Whitefish Lake. I have suggested a user fee be instituted for other boats that might want to use other lakes. In consultation with other boaters in Alberta we would be willing to fund the same kind of decontamination unit to be set up either in Cardston or Pincher Creek to facilitate Waterton boaters provided the Park is open to motorized watercraft. This will provide protection for both Parks. The unit is mobile and can moved to various locations as determined by need.

There are the usual drain, dry, and clean components of boat management as well and I just recently returned from Roosevelt dam in Arizona where they have implemented heavy fines and even looked at impounding watercraft that violate their very strict regulations. Keeping the boat completely dry for 7 days also destroys contamination if done properly.

What I have proposed eliminates the possibility of contamination and is available immediately. I am sure others may have some input and together I see no reason that we need to close these waters to the enjoyment of the public. We can work together to make sure these activities are safe."

Waterton Lakes National Park Superintendent Ifan Thomas's response to the above letter reads in part as follows:

As stewards of Canada's national parks, Parks Canada is dedicated to maintaining the ecological integrity of these special places and providing visitors with exceptional and meaningful experiences. This decision was made in full consideration of these important and core elements of Parks Canada's mandate.

Research to date confirms that the greatest risk of infestation is through the transfer of power boats and trailer-launched watercraft and their trailers from infested waters. As there is no evidence that contamination has occurred through the transport of human• powered watercraft, access for these types of vessels will continue, although all operators will be required to complete a mandatory self-assessment before accessing the water.

The decision followed a comprehensive review of all options to manage the risk. The most effective method to safeguard the ecological health of Waterton Lakes and protect important resources within the Park and downstream from the permanent ecological and economic impacts of invasive mussels, is to restrict motorized and trailer-launched recreational watercraft.

Full details on the decision are available on the Parks Canada website at this address (click here).

Parks Canada understands that this decision has resulted in a change in use that has been a longstanding part of the Waterton experience for a group of visitors. It is, however, the· best decision to ensure that Waterton Lakes remain free of invasive mussels, while· providing the vast majority of visitors continued opportunities to experience the full majesty of the National Park.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I just received feedback from Daniel Watson in regards to the above, and particular the letter I sent to him and other high placed Government folks. Just so you know, My boat was the second oldest boat on Waterton, Been there since ~1958, the "international" being number one. My boat has NEVER been in any other waters!! If you wish to see the reply I have.. My e mail is He basically says the same thing the "Sup" said above...I guess I`ll be celebrating "Canada 150" from the shore! Jerry Green

    Jerry Green


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