BANFF – The decision to go off trail at Johnston Canyon into an area closed to protect an endangered bird species had a steep pricetag for two hikers in Banff National Park.
On Wednesday (Aug. 14), two people were fined $1,200 each for admittedly hiking off the Johnston Canyon trail into the closure put in place by Parks Canada to protect nesting black swifts.
"The concern of Parks Canada is that this area is home to the endangered black swift, whose population has deteriorated significantly in the past years. The area is also very steep and wet, so the safety of hikers is a concern," federal Crown counsel Jeremy Newton explained.
The closure was officially put in place on April 15 and runs to Nov. 15, restricting hiking, walking or any kind of foot travel on that specific trail to minimize disturbance to the birds. Historically, black swifts nesting numbers in that location were in the double digits, but now there are only one or two nesting pairs.
Chelsea Dalmacio and Patrick Gallardo admitted entering the closed, roped-off and clearly signed area to take photos of the secret cave was "too enticing."
"They did not read the signs and simply went into the closed area," Newton said.
The pair was charged $1,200 each.
Parks Canada announced earlier this year it would be cracking down on people defying the closure. The location is a popular spot for those looking to post pictures on social media.
In June, wardens said 21 people in nine separate incidents were reported ignoring the ban, leading to eight verbal warnings and one charge.
Several more people have been charged since, including two people from North Dakota who were fined $1,200 on Aug. 7 after entering the closure.
Newton said Judge D.R. Pahl took into consideration the two from North Dakota followed another person into the closed area, not pre-planning the diversion and apparently were not off the trail for very long. The judge also took into consideration that the pair drove from North Dakota to plead guilty to the charge.
A man was also fined $500 in July for entering the closure, taking responsibility for the group he was with, including two children.
All fine payments go to the Environmental Damages Fund, administered by Environment Canada, monies in the fund are directed to priority projects intended to benefit Canada's natural environment. The fund also follows the Polluter Pays Principle to ensure those who cause environmental damage, or harm to wildlife, take responsibility for their actions, according to the government's website.
The black swifts were designated as an endangered species in 2015, when the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the species as having highly specialized feeding and nesting habits, making the birds susceptible to population decline.
Newton noted anywhere between 10 to 30 people enter the closed area daily, but "Park Wardens simply can't catch everyone."
In 2018, there were 13 reported incidents with 30 individuals, leading Wardens to issue four charges and a total of $1,000 in fines were paid through the court system.
The maximum penalty for breaching the Canada National Parks Act is $25,000.
Parks Canada is asking anyone who observes people entering a closed area to report it to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.