BANFF – Disturbing an endangered species has netted a Calgary man a $1,250 fine after taking friends to see the "secret cave" in Banff National Park earlier this summer.
On Sept. 11, Andrew Chung pleaded guilty in Canmore Provincial Court in front of Judge Margaret Keelaghan for going off trail and entering the enclosed area in Johnston Canyon.
"I am not proud ... I am embarrassed of what I did," Chung said with his head down in the courthouse, before he was issued his fine.
Federal Crown prosecutor Anita Szabo said four individuals were caught in the closed area, but Chung took responsibility for the group and was the only one charged.
"I saw it was closed, but didn't realize it was because of an endangered species ... I've been to the spot numerous times and was just trying to be a good [host], but I went about it the wrong way," Chung told the Judge.
Closed for nesting black swifts, the birds were assessed as endangered in 2015 by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Historically, up to 20 nests used to be observed in the Johnston Canyon area, with nesting pairs of birds dropping as low as two or three in recent years.
This is the second year Parks Canada has closed the area, as it was assessed Johnston Canyon is one of three places in Alberta the black swifts nest and fledge and the noticeable reduction in nesting numbers was brought up as a concern.
The annual closure was put in place on April 15 and runs to Nov. 15, restricting any hiking, walking or any kind of foot travel off the official trail, from the lower trail sign to the Ink Pots/Moose Meadows junction.
Anyone caught by Parks Canada this summer were charged, with fines ranging from $500 to $1,250 per person. So far this year, 77 people have been charged under the Canada National Parks Act for entering the closed area according to Parks Canada.
In addition to the protection of the black swifts, the restricted activity notice was put in place to prevent erosion, trampling and disturbance of sensitive ground and riparian vegetation – and to support the safety of visitors within a canyon environment containing numerous steep, wet, slippery slopes, according to the Government of Canada's website.
The fine will be paid to the Environmental Damages Fund. Monies in the fund are directed towards priority projects intended to benefit Canada's natural environment and also follows the Polluter Pays Principal, ensuring those who cause environmental damage or harm to wildlife, take responsibility for their actions, according to the government's website.
The maximum penalty for breaching the Canada National Parks Act is $25,000.
The closure runs until Nov. 15 and Parks Canada is asking anyone who observes people entering a closed area to report it to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.