Banff residents are outraged over the proposed sale of the Banff Upper Hot Springs, an attraction they consider to be a part of their history and a part of their home.
But the integrity of the picturesque mountain community isn’t the only thing at risk. According to one expert, the natural habitat and an endangered species that calls it home could be jeopardized if the deal to privatize goes ahead.
Dr. Dwayne Lepitzki, Independent Conservation Biologist and World Expert on the Endangered Banff Springs Snail, feels that privatization could result in added pressure on Parks Canada management to make certain exceptions that could be detrimental to the environment and the species.
“Who knows how much pressure will be put on Parks Canada by private companies to allow them to drill a well and divert water to ensure a steady supply of thermal water,” Lepitzki explains. “That idea has been tossed around for several years, but it’s not a viable solution because all the thermal spring water is tied into one system. If you drill a well, it could reduce the supply to other hot springs, which is critical habitat for the Banff Springs Snail.
The Banff Springs Snail was historically located at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, but hasn’t lived there for decades and re-establishing the snail into its former habitat is impossible at this time. This is because of the inconsistent supply of thermal water, which has dried up for 14 of the past 17 years due, largely, to climate change.
Examining the feasibility of re-establishing the snail at the Banff Upper Hot Springs is an action in the Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for the species, which is protected under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). One of Parks Canada’s general strategies is to restore and re-establish populations wherever possible.
“We’ve done this before; taken snails from one spring and put them to another where they were historically located. The more separate sites you have, the less the species is prone to extinction.”
While the work to reestablish and protect the snail is more viable under a publically owned entity, the environment could be further impacted by private development of a privatized hot springs, including expanded parking lots in the pristine natural setting.