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Rush for Banff campsites sees 13,500 bookings in 2½ hours, plus a litany of complaints





Eager campers snatched up Banff campsites at a rate of 90 per minute on Wednesday morning, overwhelming Parks Canada’s computer servers and frustrating would-be visitors who say they were often frozen out of the online booking system.

Summer reservations for frontcountry campsites in Banff National Park opened at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. By 10:30 a.m., a record 13,521 bookings had been made, Parks Canada says.

That exceeds the 10,292 bookings that were made on the entire first day of reservations last year.

Calgary resident Michael Kwadrans spent an hour trying to book a campsite at Two Jack Lake, as the website repeatedly crashed. 

“It would give me errors like ‘This site is unavailable’ or it would tell me I had to log in again,” he said.

“At one point, I had a site selected at Two Jack Lake and I put in my credit card details and hit submit and it just hung, hung, hung. Nothing happened.”

Eventually, he managed to secure a campsite for himself — and then scoop up another one for his friend. He said more sites suddenly came available an hour after the reservations opened, which he figures was due to the system releasing sites that had been tentatively booked by other users who didn’t manage to get through the payment process.

“I guess I have more patience than most,” Kwadrans said. “And so I kept attempting to book a site while others probably just walked away.”

Cars line up outside the east gate to Banff National Park. (CBC)

Joe Bowser was one of those who gave up.

The Vancouver resident is planning a trip through both Jasper and Banff this summer but said he couldn’t finalize his booking for a Banff campsite Wednesday morning due to the website freezing.

“I had it selected but then I couldn’t get to pay,” he said.

He eventually quit trying because he had to leave for work. He said he still plans to make the trip to Alberta this summer but will look for campsites in provincial parks or other accommodations outside of Banff.

‘Many inconvenienced people’

Greg Danchuk, visitor experience manager at Banff National Park, said “there was a problem for a short time” when the reservations opened that resulted in “many inconvenienced people,” but most of the issues with the website were resolved within a couple of hours.

“So the system was working, in the end,” he said.

By 12:30 p.m., he said, more than 15,500 bookings had been made.

Danchuk said Parks Canada has continued to improve and refine the online booking system and has taken steps to spread out the demand, such as staggering the opening dates for reservations in the most popular parks.

Jasper, he noted, opened for bookings on Tuesday, and he said the process went relatively smoothly.

Reservations are also accepted by phone, Danchuk said, but only “a very small percentage” of bookings are made that way.

“It’s really hard to get through,” he said. “There’s only so many operators and each operator can only do one at a time.”

There are 2,400 frontcountry campsites in Banff National Park, Danchuk said, and the vast majority can be booked through the reservation system.

Prior to 2006, he said, campsites were booked on a first-come, first-served basis, but Parks Canada moved away from that because it led to long lineups and disappointed people who were turned away with no alternative accommodations available.

Banff increasingly busy 

The surge in online traffic mirrors a growth in physical traffic through Banff National Park.

The park recorded nearly 4.2 million visitors in its 2017-18 fiscal year, which runs from April 1 to March 31. That was up three per cent from the year before.

Other national parks are not nearly as busy.

Bowser said he managed to book a campsite at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island earlier this year but, when it comes to Banff, there’s simply too many people trying to visit.

He said Parks Canada could make things better by staggering the opening day for reservations within Banff, itself, rather than making all the campsites available at once.

Danchuk said the agency would consider that.

“We could do that way in the future,” he said. “We’ll certainly look at it.”

Visitors wanting to catch of glimpse of golden larch trees near Moraine Lake, Alta., wait for a shuttle bus. (Chris Franklin/CBC)

For Kwadrans, who regularly makes trips to from Calgary to Banff, the number of visitors to the park “is getting a little bit ridiculous.”

“From a user’s experience, it’s not great,” he said. “There’s too many cars, too many people.”

Danchuk said it’s something Parks Canada is trying to address, in general.

“Camping in Canada is a very popular activity,” he said.


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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M






Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.


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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study






The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”


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DFO tries to allay fishermen’s fears that protected area would impact livelihood






The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring “No Marine Protected Area Here!”

It’s a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.

The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.

The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.

“We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA,” said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.

A “No Marine Protected Area Here!” sign is seen along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. (Robert Short/CBC)

Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.

The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.

“The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It’s a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it’s not necessary to have a no-take,” Williams said in an interview.

“We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone.”

Fishermen seek assurances

But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.

“You have to remember this is deathbed conversion,” he said.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.

He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams’s promise.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Peter Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I want to know the mechanism that he’s going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations,” said Connors. “I don’t want a trust me proposition and I don’t want a temporary reprieve … just because they are facing a lot of opposition now.”

Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help “Canada’s brand” from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

‘Give and take’

Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.

Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.

“Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard,” said Fuller.

“For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take.”

While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.

“Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we’re looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn’t. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way,” she said.


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