A Calgary court ordered Lake Louise ski resort to pay more than $2 million in fines last week for the 2013 removal of 38 endangered whitebark pines near Ptarmigan Ridge.
Dan Markham, Director of Brand and Communications for the resort, told CityNews it was expecting fines more in the ballpark of $.5 million to $1 million, based on precedent send in similar cases involving similar tree species.
The court had a different opinion. Based on the removal of these trees within Banff National Park, the current plight of the whitebark pine as a species, and how crucial they are to a healthy ecosystem, the court decided to hand down a particular stiff fine.
“The five-needle whitebark pine is considered crucial because it provides food and habitat for animals, as well as helps stabilize steep subalpine slopes,” reported the CBC. “The tree exists at high elevations in western North America at or close to the treeline. They have been growing on the continent for 100,000 years and can grow to be between 500 and 1,000 years old.”
According to a study by the U.S. Forest Service, the Whitebark Pine population is dwindling fast due to a mountain pine beetle killing mature trees while a deadly fungus rapidly is killing the young trees.
“As a result, whitebark pine populations have declined dramatically and have actually disappeared from many parts of its historic range,” said the study. Lake Louise intends to appeal the decision.