CALGARY — An Alberta judge has upheld a $2.1 million fine against a world-renowned ski resort for cutting down endangered trees nearly seven years ago.
Lake Louise Ski Resort pleaded guilty in 2017 to taking down a stand of trees, including 38 endangered whitebark pine, along a ski run in 2013.
The fine, which was imposed a year later for charges under the Species at Risk Act and the Canada National Parks Act, amounted to roughly $55,000 a tree.
Lake Louise’s lawyer argued the fine was ‘grossly disproportional and demonstrably unfit’ as a result of remediation efforts the resort took after the trees were cut down.
He asked for the court to either stay the charges or reduce the penalty to $200,000.
The resort has taken steps to ensure no other whitebark pine are cut down. Staff are better educated and the 7,000 whitebark pine within the resort area are now marked.
But the Appeal judge rejected the request and said the trial judge did not make an error handing out the fine.
“The penalties imposed by the sentencing judge for these offences were certainly more than a slap on the wrist,” wrote Justice Barbara Romaine in a decision released Wednesday.
“An observer, uninformed of the circumstances of the case, may consider the penalties to be excessively high given that the offence involved flora and not animals,” she said.
But, Romaine said, this was not a case of an “otherwise good environmental citizen making an isolated mistake”.
“A mid-sized corporation operating in a national park failed to train and inform employees, leading to the destruction of a number of individuals of an endangered species whose extinction would have impact throughout the subalpine ecosystem,” she wrote.
The agreed statement of facts in the case said that in 2013 a trail crew, consisting of six employees including a supervisor, began cleaning up, doing fence work and trimming and removing some trees on Ptarmigan Ridge at the ski resort.
The document said that in late September of that year, the workers cut down a number of trees, including the whitebark pine, without a permit.
The five-needle whitebark pine provides food and habitat for animals, as well as helps stabilize steep subalpine slopes.
The trees exist 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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2020
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press