Officials at Lake Louise ski resort have pleaded guilty to cutting down a stand of trees, including whitebark pine trees, which are considered an endangered species protected by federal law. It is alleged that at least 39 of the whitebark pine were felled, reports The Globe and Mail.
The resort was to go to trial on Monday, but a representative pleaded guilty on two charges – one under the Species At Risk Act and the other under the Canada National Parks Act.
“The first count is … for cutting down whitebark pine in a national park and the second count is … for harming flora in a national park without a permit,” federal prosecutor Erin Eacott said outside court. “If we can get a guilty plea instead of running a trial, it is a great outcome.”
Eacott added that 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.”
The whitebark pine is a long-lived, five-needle pine native to high elevations, and is threatened by invasive disease, fire and climate change. It is considered crucial because it provides food and habitat for animals and helps stabilize steep subalpine slopes.
Eacott said the maximum fine under the Species At Risk Act for each tree destroyed is $300,000. The maximum per tree is $250,000 under the national parks act.