The same CPAWS report which takes Parks Canada to task for inappropriate developments in Jasper National Park is critical of the agency for focusing on enhancing visitation numbers. Interpreter and education positions are being cut in favour of marketing mass special events such as marathons, bike races and new recreational activities, the report says. “National parks are being promoted by the Agency less as conservation areas where people can enjoy and appreciate nature, and more as recreation and sport areas focused on built tourism infrastructure,” it reads. The report is critical of budget allocations. It highlights spending on national parks since 2012, claiming that the agency’s Resource Conservation staff decreased by 31 per cent while Visitor Experience staff grew by nine per cent. “Visitor Experience staff are paid to encourage visitation to the park, but unfortunately because they’re not versed in science and conservation, the way they’re attracting people to the park is through inappropriate developments like the Glacier Discovery Walk or high-end experiences that not everyone can afford, such as tent cabins on Maligne Lake,” said Alison Ronson, Executive Director of CPAWS’ Northern Alberta chapter. Parks Canada has claimed that investments in visitor infrastructure allow more Canadians to experience the outdoors and learn about the environment, but Ronson takes issue with that statement, noting that the majority of people visit Canada’s parks to go hiking, camping and experience Canadian wilderness. “I’d like to see the numbers that show urban people are asking for these developments,” she said. Parks Canada has strayed from its mandate of managing with nature as its first priority, Ronson said. “The most important message is that Parks Canada should return to recognizing our parks are supposed to be our most protected wilderness areas,” she said. Ronson said the report was a culmination of a decade of observing federal government processes and being involved on a day-to-day basis of what’s going on in our national parks. She said it’s important that CPAWS sound the alarm to Canadians that the agency in charge of our protected areas is falling short of its mandate. “If we’re allowing the wilderness within our protected areas to be whittled away by commercial developments, what is the future of our wildlife, our clean air, our clean water?” she asked.