Course:CONS200/2020/Managing Visitor Impact in Canada’s National Parks

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Canada has many National Parks spanning a multitude of ecosystems and temperature regimes. Each is managed differently due to its unique specifications, but they all face the same problem; the lasting impact visitors leave on the park. This can range from littering and trampling vulnerable flora and fauna to the unintentional spreading of invasive species[1]. In general, many people retreat to National Parks for the serenity that nature provides, forcing a substantial impact on the ecological balance within the ecosystem[2]. In 2017-2018, Parks Canada welcomed 27.2 million visitors [3], all of whom placed a lasting toll on the park visited. The increasing visitor impact on already delicate ecosystems forces the need for management strategies to prevent degradation.  This is countered by the decreasing funding for National Parks, with the goals of the National Park system not being met due to the unavailability of management. However, there are many solutions to these problems. By implementing restoration and monitoring programs, establishing and enforcing regulatory tools[1], and educating in schools and local communities, our National Parks can remain intact.

Challenges Facing Canada's National Parks

1. Invasive Species

Canada's national parks are important for conserving ecosystems that are threatened by human activity. However, the large natural landscapes experience high tourist numbers due to many international people coming to view the distinct scenery. These tourists may not realize it, but by coming to the park, they pose a threat to the native species inside. Invasive species can be tracked in on the soles of hiking boots, unwashed sports gear and even luggage.[4] Invasive species include flora, fauna, mammals, or even insects. Any of these organisms pose a huge threat to the biodiversity in national parks by infecting or killing the native species, usually due to a lack of competition[1].

Effects of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid on Hemlock branch. (White dots)

Example: Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia)

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is an aphid affecting Eastern Hemlock by feeding on water and nutrients at the base of needles. It was brought into Kejimkujik National Park from Asia by tourism. It poses a major threat to the Eastern Hemlocks, estimated to kill about 80% of the population in 10 years. It is important to produce a management strategy since Eastern Hemlock forests form a high percentage of old growth forests in Nova Scotia. [5]

2. Pollution

National parks have been affected by different kinds of pollution for many decades. Pollution is mainly generated outside their boundaries, yet it is not stationary. It causes many negative consequences, such as blocked views and contaminant build-up that affects plants and bodies of water[6]. Acidification (from CO2 storage) is one of the processes that degrades landscapes through biodiversity loss. Additionally, pollution affects visitors and nearby residents with toxic particles in the air, ground level ozone, noise from infrastructure, and artificial light from nearby cities[7].

Example: Wood Buffalo National Park (Alberta)

The world's second largest national park has been facing pollution problems in the past few years. UNESCO even declared those issues as far more complex and rooted than how they seem[8]. Oil and gas operations further north extract huge amounts of water from rivers such as the Athabasca, contributing to its contamination and declined seasonal flow. A high biodiversity level makes it harder to implement development projects; any development threatens natural processes that if altered, could rapidly put the whole ecosystem at stake.

3. Littering

The issue of littering appears in almost every single National Park[2]. Tourists are often unaware that their slight actions affect the ecosystem drastically[9]. Although there are designated areas for garbage disposal, visitors often throw their rubbish along trails instead of packing it out. Littering is any material left in inappropriate areas, ranging from plastic products to broken glass. It is difficult and expensive to manage when improperly disposed of[10]. This act is dangerous because wildlife often feed on garbage, which can be fatal and leads to an environmental imbalance[11][12].

4. Trampling of Plants

Almost every national park has designated trails for visitors to follow[3]. These pathways are created not only for the safety for the visitors, but also for the well being of the ecosystem. Vegetation trampling is a common issue facing most national parks and its continuous occurrence leads to loss of biodiversity in both vegetation and soil[13]. Reoccurring destruction could lead to a permanent loss of vegetation diversity. This extensive destruction could also impact the soil, causing a reduction of soil health, decrease in water and air permeability, and accelerated erosion[14].

Grassland National Park, Saskatchewan

Example: Grassland National Park (Saskatchewan)

Over the past 200 years, '99 percent of the native tall-grass communities and 75 percent of mixed grass communities have disappeared’[15]. Grassland National Park was officially established on February 19, 2001, in Saskatchewan. The area was deemed as a national park to protect the endangered prairie grassland[16]. As the grasslands are of major concern, a strict policy was introduced regarding the roadways and pathways that are accessible to each area, cutting through other areas is prohibited, as it puts vegetation at risk. The park also has a strict motorized vehicle policy, where any vehicles must remain on paved or gravelled surfaces and any use of off road vehicles are not allowed, regardless of it's purpose[16]. Furthermore, as much of the vegetation look similar, the visitor guide includes four illustrations of the native species of mixed grass in the prairie ecosystem to make sure that visitors are aware of what they look like.

5. High Visitor Volume

Family of deer in Rouge National Urban Park

While in most cases visitors are important for tourism, as they provide funding for national parks, their presence can also have negative impacts on the ecosystem that is in need of protection. From 2018-2019, Parks Canada had 15,898,110 visitors across three types of national parks: the seven mountain parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke, and Glacier), two marine conservation areas (Fathom Five and Saguenay-St. Lawrence), and all other national parks. While all these national parks have many visitors each year (especially Banff), the most visited national park is the newly established Rouge National Urban Park.

Example: Rouge National Urban Park (Toronto, Ontario)

Rouge National Urban Park is one of Canada's newest national parks, officially established in June 2019. The encompassing area is 18.5 km2, situated in-between the cities of Pickering and Markham, and bordering the largest city in Canada; Toronto. Due to the close proximity that Rouge National Urban Park has to major cities, a detailed management plan is established to prevent ecosystem degradation due to the large amount of visitor traffic. In order to establish this management plan, Parks Canada along with 20,000 Canadians and many Indigenous groups collaborated to create framework that guides decision-making concerning the park. As well, the plan works to rehabilitate habitats for at-risk species due to the lasting impact that agriculture and human impact had on the area historically.

First Nations

Canada is home to a multitude of First Nations bands and groups. Together, all self-identifying Inuit, Métis, and First Nations peoples make up 4.3% of Canada's population[17]. First Nations themselves are not the challenge that face national parks. Equitable land use legislation is a problem that Canada has been, and continues to face. First Nations peoples have been living in North America thousands of years before European colonizers arrived. Despite their more recent arrival, colonizers began to force Indigenous peoples off their traditional land for the purpose of establishing homesteads, and more recently, national parks[18]. To date, the Canadian government is working with Indigenous groups to try to remediate some of the past damage and work together to establish new protected areas that respect the interests of both parties[18].

Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park

Example: Banff National Park (Alberta)

Banff National Park was the first national park established in Canada. It was created the late 1880s when the area was discovered by Europeans while building the Canadian Pacific Railway[19]. While other National Parks have since been established for preserving ecosystems, Banff was created with tourism in mind[19].

Banff has many unique features, such as natural hot springs, jagged mountains, and clear, glacier-fed lakes[19]. Due to the importance of tourism in establishing this park, the town of Banff was created within the park boundaries. At this time, it was acceptable to promote living inside of a national park (especially one that was created for the purpose of tourism)[18]. The pristine wilderness that Banff National Park has to offer initiated it's designation as a UNESCO Wold Heritage Site.[19]

Before any of this was created, Indigenous peoples had inhabited this area in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Here, they hunted bison and other game animals, fished, and trapped all throughout the area[19]. Due to the hot springs, it was a place of medicine and healing. Once Banff National Park was established, policies were developed to exclude Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands for the purpose of providing a a world-class tourist destination for international travellers[19]. In more recent years, management of Banff National Park has included reversing many of these policies and building stronger relationships with the Indigenous peoples of this area[19]. While this is a step in the right direction, much has yet to be done to even start to remediate what has been done in the past.

Example: Nahanni National Park Reserve (Northwest Territories)

Canada hosts many National Parks that reach to all regions, no matter how remote. National parks were established in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut to protect delicate ecosystems and conserve ranges of threatened species, such as caribou. An important aspect of managing these parks is being in communication with local Indigenous peoples whose traditional hunting lands overlap the boundaries of national parks. Forming modern regulations, quotas, and treaties specific to these groups are methods of allowing Indigenous peoples to retain their cultural heritage while still promoting ecosystem-level conservation of a variety of species[20].

Little Doctor Lake, Nahanni National Park Reserve, NWT

Nahanni National Park Reserve was established in the Northwest Territories in 1976, following part of the historic South Nahanni River and covers much of the surrounding land[20]. The river passes through the Taiga Cordillera ecozone and is home to the Dehcho First Nations, who have used this traditional land for generations[21].

Nahanni National Park Reserve has many visitor regulations set in place to manage their impact on the park as well as monitor their safety. These regulations include disallowing open fires[21], requirement of possessing fishing permits, and regulations on which parts of the park are off-limits to visitors.

As stated within the park regulations, Indigenous peoples to the area are allowed to hunt, fish, and trap within the area as per their traditional harvesting rights, but this access is limited to only those of the permitted groups, not visitors[22]. Indigenous peoples of the groups that traditionally occupy the land are permitted to use firearms to harvest animals and use motorized vehicles to obtain them[22]. Non-Indigenous peoples are not permitted to have firearms or use motorized vehicles[22]. This management is put into place in order to minimize visitor impact not the park and it's resources, while still allowing Indigenous peoples to use their traditional lands.

Unlike Banff, the Nahanni National Park Reserve which was created more recently, encompasses more of the values of the Indigenous peoples in the area. Even so, the establishment of national parks always poses concerns and issues. Due to better communication with the Indigenous communities, these problems and concerns are more easily managed and often issues are able to be smoothed out.

Solutions to Manage Visitor Impact in National Parks

Invasive Species Solutions

1. Implementing Effective Control of Invasive Species:

By implementing effective control of invasive species, national parks will be protecting the native species of plants and wildlife. In order to do this, effective, current and enforceable legislation must be put in place[1]. This will enforce that current up to date invasive species lists to be given to national park employees so they can find the problem and establish ways to contain these invasive species brought in through tourism. Furthermore, in order to implement effective control, it is imperative that relevant and applicable research must be done. This research will allow for scientific knowledge of invasive species biology, habitats and dispersal methods to control to be spread[1]. By them having this knowledge, they will be able to quickly and effectively respond to invasive species when located and decrease the effects this invasive species has on the ecosystem.

2. Restoration and Monitoring Programs:

These programs will allow for national parks to gain control of the invasive species though actions. These actions must be done quickly and effectively, or the invasive species will continue to spread rapidly and damage the ecosystem[1]. Conducting inventories is a great method for targeting invasive species and is valuable when attempting to get rid of them. By taking inventory, workers obtain knowledge on where the invasive species are growing and what native species they affect. This information will allow national park workers to remove the invasive species and begin to restore the area to its original state. Restoration methods are done to accelerate ecosystem recovery, as well as prevent future invasive species from establishing[1].

3. Preventing Introduction and Spread:

Invasive species can be introduced to national parks through different means. Dispersal through wind, water, and root systems are the most common methods. However, the main cause of invasive species movement into Canada national parks in human activity. In order to stop the introduction and spread of these invasive species through visitors, it is very important that there is more education provided. This way, tourists are informed about their actions as well as why its important to wash clothing and shoes before entering a national park. Furthermore, there needs to be more general awareness to local populations and governments about how invasive species effect our national parks. This education to tourists, the public and government will help people take pride in protecting public and private resources and assets, including national parks[1].

Community Consultation

Community consultation is an important part of managing the impact of people on the environment. This is an extremely difficult aspect to manage due to negative historical situations that have fostered bad relationships, mainly between the Indigenous peoples of Canada and the Canadian Federal Government (similar situations have also happened in various other countries, including the United States)[23]. A historical example was that in the creation of Banff National Park, the Canadian Pacific Railway workers used the Indigenous peoples of the Blackfoot Confederacy as guides to explore the area for the purpose of establishing a future tourism destination[24]. Once the national park was established to preserve the ecosystem, the indigenous peoples that called the area home were forced to relocate[19]. Events like these happened not solely in the establishment of Banff National Park, but instead were the norm when the Government of Canada designated land for a national park[18].

More recent practices work towards fostering a better relationship for the future. While Parks Canada is working to increase park area to protect delicate and vulnerable ecosystems, creating Indigenous-specific agreements between the government and the local bands is also a necessity[22]. These can include still allowing Indigenous peoples to hunt, trap, and gather in their traditional territory, but restricting this access to the local groups alone[22]. Nahanni National Park Reserve is a prime example of this because in its establishment, it works with the local community, not against, while still conserving the ecosystem. Although Nahanni National Park Reserve was created nearly a century after Banff, there is still more community consultation to be done regarding other Indigenous rights to the land.

Increasing Awareness about Responsible Tourism

Responsible tourism is centralized around the concept of making better places to inhabit and to visit[25]. Travelling has become a regular habit for most citizens. Many individuals are unaware that there are responsibilities to travelling and visiting tourism hot spots[25]. People need to be more conscious when travelling. First-time travellers usually do not have a sense of environmental protection and values that people must have subconsciously. As a result, many destinations are robbed from their natural state and are littered with garbage. Soon, these places lose their appeal and often become inhabitable due to severe contamination[26]. One way to increase responsible tourism is to create community activities that are both interesting and unique. This will allow tourists to build meaningful connections with locals and obtain a greater understanding of environmental and social issues[27]. This can be in the form of direct actions such as cleanups and indirect actions such as visitor guides.

Clean Up

Creating community movements are useful because they advocate voluntary change within individuals[2]. This creates a common understanding that despite the varying backgrounds, the end in mind is clear. We are trying to preserve and restore the nature that we have. Locals or visitors of certain areas usually do these actions that vary from cleaning up littered areas to doing biochemical processes such as reducing acid in water bodies[27].

Example: Go Green

The V'Spirit Cruises and Deluxe Cruises are travel companies that organize tours for the Halong Bay area. They created the Go Green project to combat the severe garbage that is found on the beaches. In this project, the company has a beach cleanup campaign where tourists help clean up rubbish, such as cans and plastic bags. This activity was created to help the local community and to increase awareness in responsible and sustainable tourism[28].

Visitor Guides

Every single park in Canada has its own visitor guide[16]. They contain both general and specific rules. General rules include no open-fire policies, trespassing and picking of plants and flowers. More specific ones include camping restrictions and individual animals or plants to keep a lookout for. This is because no park is identical to the other; each has its specific precautions.

Maintenance and Service Fees

Parks Canada manages the fees coming in from visitors as well as the investment directed from the government. The fees oscilate between $5.00-$17.00 CAD for a daily entrance, while engaging in other activities such as camping, fishing or snowshoeing have higher fees[29]. Parks Canada promotes a sustainable approach when implementing any utility or service into a national park, and these installments help fund it. This is why privatizing these services increases the parks' sustainability integrally, and most of them are. In addition, payments help control visitor flows as well as forecasting for future planning.

The challenge relies on the direction and management of these investments. There is a huge risk of misplacing it, such as whatnhappened in 2019. Ecological integrity during this year was maintained or improved in 82% of national parks, but that was 6% lower than the 2018 results[30]. Government has now been replanning investments for two year periods, as well as partnering with the private sector to improve sustainability activities in overall.


Canada has many national parks throughout the different provinces and territories. These national parks are a large part of Canada's economy bringing in tourists from other countries and even Canadians looking to experience nature. These tourists pose a threat to the ecosystems in our national parks. The threats created by tourism can range from littering and trampling vulnerable flora and fauna to the unintentional spreading of invasive species. However, there are many solutions available to manage these threats, including implementing effective control, restoration and monitoring programs, establishing and enforcing regulatory tools[1], and educating in schools and local communities. If the solutions mentioned are acted upon with public contributions, government assistance and national park workers, Canada's national parks can be easily maintained.


Note: Before writing your wiki article on the UBC Wiki, it may be helpful to review the tips in Wikipedia: Writing better articles.[31]

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  31. (2018). Writing better articles. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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