A man of science,
Deep inside the JNP warden compound, through the entrance to the Resource Conservation wing and past a series of cubicles, on June 19, an office door was left ajar.
Taped to the office door were dozens of messages of support for a man who was no longer allowed to go through it. Dr. John Wilmshurst was fired from his post as Resource Conservation officer on June 11.
Neither Parks Canada officials nor Wilmshurst would provide a statement about the firing, but the messages, as well as a photo of a smiling Wilmshurst which was also covered in well wishes, said a lot.
“Best manager I’ve had in 33 years,” one note read.
“A source of inspiration,” said another. “Still our Chief.”
“Forever our leader.”
After a seven year stint as a grasslands ecologist in Winnipeg, where he performed work which won him a CEO Award of Excellence from Parks Canada, Wilmshurst came to Jasper in 2008 as JNP’s Science Coordinator. He occupied that post for four years before transitioning to the role of caribou program project manager—a project which spanned all of Canada’s mountain
parks. When former Jasper Resource Conservation Manager Steve Otway retired in 2012, Wilmshurst was hired for the job, heading up approximately 50 employees working in Jasper
.Since becoming a biologist for the national parks, Wilmshurst’s speciality had shifted from behavioural ecology to conservation biology tending towards wildlife management. His teams’ work have been guided by a seminal Parks Canada report in 2000 which helped usher in an era of using ecological integrity as a measurable management tool. The report’s authors were part of a Panel of Ecological Integrity, a committee created in 1998 after the Liberal government promised to do a better job of protecting Canada’s natural heritage.
“In Canadian national parks, ecological integrity has evolved from a scientific idea into a management system. It connects science to management,” Dr. Stephen Woodley, who was on that panel Panel on Ecological Integrity, wrote in 2010.
Critics of the current government point out its unwillingness to take meaningful steps to address climate change, despite scientific evidence calling for stricter emissions targets, for example. Meanwhile, Wilmshurst has been featured in the national media speaking to the potentially catastrophic effects of not adapting to curtail climate change. In a 2014 story produced by the Canadian Press and picked up by the CBC, Huffington Post, McLean’s, and other major news outlets, Wilmshurst described research he and his colleagues were doing on the melting Athabasca Glacier. He predicted that the ice could be gone in his children’s lifetime, a statement supported by recently-published research out of the University of British Columbia.
“The information that we’re getting is pretty clear that climate is warming,” he told the camera. “[Climate change] is definitely something that’s happening and it’s happening because of our activities.”
Wilmshurst was a well-regarded boss, as evidenced by the messages which adorned his former office door. Words such as “inspirational” and “dedicated;” “integrity” and “kindness;” and “defending” and “standing up” were peppered throughout the thank-you notes.
Those last two verbs, at least according to theories some Jasperites are putting forward, could be telling as to Wilmshurst’s dismissal. The Jasper Environmental Association presumes that Wilmshurst was fired because he chose to carry out his job according to his high principles.
“The faceless individual who took this step is part of a bureaucracy that has become so poisoned with suspicion and intolerance that anyone who does their job according to what they believe is best for a national park is now in danger of facing this kind of draconian measure,” JEA Chair, Jill Seaton, has said.
The Jasper Local has learned that JNP’s Integrated Land Use Planner, Sean Cardiff, will act in the Resource Conservation Manager position in the interim.