Lake Louise Ski Area pleads guilty to cutting down endangered trees
Officials at the Lake Louise ski resort have pleaded guilty to cutting down a stand of trees, including whitebark pine trees, considered to be an endangered species recognized by Parks Canada.
In 2015, Lake Louise was charged after over 100 mature trees were discovered cut down near one of the resort’s runs.
Parks Canada officials, when inspecting the trees that had been cut down, discovered a number of whitebark pine trees had been removed too.
Whitebark pine trees are protected by federal law.
The charges were laid under the Federal Species at Risk Act, introduced in 2015.
Lake Louise sought a stay of the charges in 2016 but was denied.
Erin Eacott, Crown prosecutor said the company pleaded guilty to the charges on Monday. but the judge has put the motion over for a week so the facts can be prepared for the guilty plea.
"The first count is under the Species at Risk Act for cutting down whitebark pine in a national park and the second counts is under the Canada National Parks Act and that's for harming flora in a national park environment."
She says it's rare to have a prosecution in such a case. "There aren't very many prosecutions under the Species at Risk Act. There's only under about a dozen convictions across Canada since the Act came into existence about 10 years ago. So it hasn't been heavily prosecuted yet."
Eacott says that it is an important issue, especially because it involves a national park.
"When you're dealing with a national park, it's important to preserve what's there. When it's a national park, I think people know that it's serious and when you're dealing with an endangered species, that makes it even more serious."
Alain Hepner, defence for Lake Louise, says the sentencing hearing will be the real battle.
"It's going to be a battle of experts. It's going to be evidence of experts in the area of flora in the national parks and the circumstances by which these species at risk were cut and the number of trees that were cut."
Hepner says there is a discrepancy between the figures that the Crown is looking at and how many his client says were cut down.
When it boils down to it, Hepner says, it will depend on what the judge believes. He says that Lake Louise has always been a good corporate and environmental citizen, but the Act calls for substantial fines as punishment.
"The issue is how many, the impact on the environment, and the fine that's appropriate in the circumstances."
The hearing is expected sometime next week, but a decision likely won't come down until 2018.