State of the Park Assessment 2019

Waterton Lakes National Park

Table of contents

Overview of indicators

Based on monitoring data for a national suite of indicators, state of the park assessments are used to communicate the overall condition of key aspects of the park. These assessments are undertaken every 10 years to support identifying key issues for the next park management plan.

Overview of indicators
Section Indicator Rating
Built assets Buildings Good
Dams Not applicable
Fortifications Not applicable
Highways Good
Marine structures Good
Roads Good
Vehicular bridges Fair
Visitor facilities Fair
Ecological integrity Forest Fair
Tundra Not applicable
Shrublands Not applicable
Wetlands Not applicable
Grasslands Fair
Freshwater Poor
Coastal / Marine Not applicable
Glaciers Not applicable
Cultural resources Archaeological Sites Fair
Buildings and engineering works Fair
Landscape features Not rated
Objects Good
External relations Promotion Good
Support Good
Indigenous relations Partnerships Not rated
Accessible Not rated
Respectful Not rated
Incorporation of traditional knowledge Not rated
Supportive Not rated
Visitor experience Visits Good
Enjoyment Good
Learning Fair
Satisfaction Good

Ecological Integrity Indicators


This assessment was conducted prior to a significant wildfire event (Kenow Wildfire) which occurred in Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP) in September 2017, burning approximately 38% of the park area and 50% of the vegetated landscape. The effects this event will have on the ecological integrity of the park is presently unknown. Fire is a natural disturbance process, a measure of ecological integrity.


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Overall Fair Stable
Sensitive species secure habitat Fair Stable
Multi-species mammal occupancy Good Stable
5 needle pine - health transects Poor Declining
Forest birds Fair Stable
Area disturbed by fire Fair Improving
  • Secure habitat available to sensitive species such as grizzly bears remains stable, and is considered to be in fair condition. With a road or trail up every major valley and increased visitation (over 500,000 visitors in 2016), significant human presence affects a large proportion of the available habitat area during the busy summer months.
  • Multi-species mammal occupancy remains relatively high and stable overall. Detection rates for grizzly bears, wolves and wolverine decline steeply with the number of people per day on park trails.
  • Whitebark and limber pine continue to be decimated by the introduced pathogen, white pine blister rust. Restoration efforts continue.
  • The forest bird community remains in a fair and stable condition. There have been significant declines in populations of some species and guilds.
  • Prior to the Kenow Wildlife, effects of the natural disturbance process of fire on the park’s forests were rated as fair and improving through the prescribed burning program. The Kenow fire brought the park significantly closer to the burned area objective within the specified time interval and very close to a good rating.


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Overall Fair Improving
Invasive non-native plants Poor Not rated
Elk Good Stable
Grasslands birds Fair Not rated
Area disturbed by fire Fair Improving
Grassland extent Fair Improving
  • Invasive non-native plants continue to be the main stressor affecting the condition of the fescue grasslands, however no trend can be assessed as monitoring is newly established.
  • The population of elk, the dominant herbivore in the grassland ecosystem, remains in good and relatively stable condition.
  • Grassland birds are in fair condition due to some species and guilds experiencing a decline. Overall trend cannot be calculated as new transects were recently added.
  • Prior to the Kenow Wildlife, area disturbed by fire in the park’s grassland ecosystems was in fair condition but increasing due to prescribed fires on the landscape. The Kenow fire exceeded the burned area objective within the specified time interval resulting in a fair rating. With the passage of a few years with no additional burning, this measure will change to a good rating.


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Overall Poor Stable
Lake fish index Poor Stable
Stream fish occupancy Poor Declining
Amphibian occupancy Good Stable
Stream Biotic Health (CABIN) Good Not rated
Water quality Good Stable
  • Historic stocking practices, largely with non-native species, have highly altered fish communities in park lakes and streams, leading to poor condition in both the lake fish index and the stream fish occupancy measures. In many locations the presence of non-native fish is putting native fish populations in jeopardy through hybridization and competition. Research in WLNP has shown that stocking of fishless lakes has altered food webs and impacted zooplankton and amphibians.
  • Amphibian populations remain in good condition with all surveyed species maintaining stable populations. Early success with the northern leopard frog re-introductions has been recorded.
  • Stream biotic health, a measure of benthic invertebrate communities, is in good condition. No trend can be assessed as analyses have been newly established.
  • Water quality in the park’s two large rivers, the Waterton and the Belly, remains in good and stable condition.
Note: See Appendix 1 for Species at Risk indicators.
Sources: Parks Canada's Information Centre on Ecosystems (ICE) - January 1, 2017.

Cultural Resource Indicators

Cultural Resource Indicators
Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Archaelogical Sites Fair Improving
Buildings and Engineering Works Fair Stable
Landscapes and Landscape Features Not rated Not rated
Objects - Historical Good Stable
Objects - Archaeological Good Stable

Archaeological Sites

To date, 406 archaeological sites have been recorded within the park. The 2017 Kenow Wildfire impacted a large portion of the known archaeology by adding 70 new archaeological sites to the archaeological inventory, leading to the 406 current total. Two national historic sites are located within the park: Prince of Wales Hotel (owned and operated by a third party), and First Oil Well in Western Canada; both impacted by the recent wildfire. The First Oil Well NHS is administered by Parks Canada (see insert to the left for a brief summary on the NHS). Only archaeological sites revisited in the last 10 years are considered to have a known site condition. Condition ratings for many of the previously evaluated sites are out of date and are considered unreliable for current condition assessment. The condition rating of the 255 archaeological sites within the wildfire extents are being assessed but are not yet available for inclusion in this assessment.

Buildings and Engineering Works

The park has 19 recognized Federal Heritage Building Review Office (FHBRO) buildings, including the RCMP detachment buildings and the Prince of Wales Hotel. The condition of the buildings as assessed by the National Asset Review, have been rated in poor to good condition. Comfort Building #2, #6 and #8 were rated poorly and are currently being refurbished into simple overnight accommodations using Federal Infrastructure Initiative (FII) funding. Disposal or repurposing is planned for 2 other FHBRO buildings: comfort station #9 and Falls Theatre.

Landscape and Landscape Features

No cultural landscapes or landscape features have been formally identified. As a result, this indicator is not rated at this time.


The archaeological objects for the park comprises over 30,500 artifacts. The majority of the recovered artifacts are currently stored at the Parks Canada Winnipeg Office and are stable. See First Oil Well NHS and archaeological objects section (to the left). Historical objects (non-archaeological) within the park are all catalogued and curated in acceptable repositories. They are considered stable. They are listed in the National Office Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) artifact inventory and/or park based databases and finding aids.

Cultural Resource Indicators – National Historic Sites
First Oil Well in Western Canada National Historic Site

A preliminary artifact condition assessment by PCA Conservation and Curatorial and PCA Terrestrial Archaeology office was completed immediately post Kenow fire in 2018. This assessment indicated extensive impacts to some surface artifacts and archaeological features while others were undamaged. Artifact and feature mapping, condition assessment and general conservation planning is underway as part of the ongoing post fire, archaeological assessment and conservation care.

Sources: Western Canada Archaeological database, Archaeological and Historical branch, Parks Canada.

External Relations Indicators


External Relations - Overview
Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Promotion - Events Good Improving
Support - Volunteers Good Improving

Outreach / Promotion

Measures 2015-2016 2017-2018
Urban Canadians 20,911 48,738
Youth 5,000 5,750
Volunteer hours 3,227 6,939


Outreach Contacts
Measures 2015-2016 2017-2018
Stories 242 626
Interviews 33 131

Web and social media

Social Media and Web
Measures 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018
Facebook followers 14,300 17,030 27,102
Twitter followers 6,100 7,220 10,026
Website page views 771,631 772,664 1,457,999
Website visits 608,092 621,858 1,098,489


WLNP’s proactive approach to External Relations through media relations, and web and social media presence, public outreach, partnering, and stakeholder engagement has resulted in significant gains in promotion, support and outreach. Interest in WLNP peaked on media, web and social media during and after the Kenow Wildfire of September 2017.

Outreach / Promotion

Outreach events reached an increasing number of Canadians, primarily targeting urban areas including Calgary, Lethbridge, and Vancouver by combining resources with other Field Units. WLNP also works closely with the Waterton Chamber of Commerce and Travel Alberta to reach Canadian, North American and European travellers, and to identify opportunities for collaboration with a strong focus on fall, winter and spring opportunities.


Total volunteer participation and volunteer hours has significantly increased from 1,856 hours (2011/2012) to 6,819 (2017/2018). This was due in part to three integrated projects: Restoring Terrestrial Ecosystems Together (2009/10 through 2013/14), Rescue the Fescue, and 5 Needle Pine Restoration (2014/15 to 2018/19). Formal partnering agreements (of various types) include relationships with local organizations, academic institutions and Earthwatch Institute to achieve visitor experience and resource conservation priorities.

Online and Media Presence

Increased media mentions of WLNP is attributable to increasing visitation levels, changes to the media landscape including online media platforms, changes in media reporting methodology including digital searching and press clipping services. Interest peaked in 2017, with 44 ‘Canada 150’ stories, 369 Kenow Wildfire stories, and 120,351 web page views during Kenow Wildfire. WLNP YouTube videos were seen over 120,000 times in 2017/18. WLNP launched the Explora app for the Bear’s Hump trail. It was downloaded almost 3000 times until it was removed due to the Kenow Wildfire.

Sources: WLNP Internet Content and New Media, Partnering Engagement and Communications, and Outreach Education and Volunteer data to 2017-18. Facebook Insights 2017 & 2018. Web statistics from National Office Web Team

Indigenous Relations Indicators


The indicators and measures of the relationship between Parks Canada and Indigenous peoples should be collaboratively determined based on shared understanding and evaluation of what is meaningful to both parties. Because indicators and measures (below) were not discussed with the groups concerned, rating at this stage would be premature.

Indigenous Partnerships

Indigenous Partnerships
Measures Trend
Indigenous collaboration in park planning and management Not Rated
Indigenous collaboration in park operations Not Rated

Indigenous Accessibility

Indigenous Accessibility
Measures Trend
Indigenous partner access to park traditional lands and activities Not Rated

Mutual Respect

Mutual Respect
Measures Trend
Team member commitment to building mutual respect, trust and understanding with Indigenous partners Not Rated
Extent of reconciliation with local Indigenous communities Not Rated

Incorporation of Traditional Knowledge

Incorporation of Traditional Knowledge
Measures Trend
Incorporation of Traditional Knowledge Not Rated
Use of Indigenous languages Not Rated

Support for Indigenous Communities

Support for Indigenous Communities
Measures Trend
Economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples Not Rated
Capacity building for Indigenous peoples Not Rated

Indigenous Partnerships

Collaboration takes place with Piikani and Kainai First Nations on a range of projects, including the new Visitor Centre, a cultural centre in the townsite and species conservation. Treaty 7 Nations and the Métis Nation of Alberta were consulted on the Multi-species Action Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park and Bar U Ranch National Historic Site (2016/17). Indigenous programming is offered regularly.

Indigenous Accessibility

Agreements are in place with Piikani and Kainai First Nations under the Aboriginal Open Doors Program (2014). Members of Piikani and Kainai First Nations can obtain fee-exempt passes for entry into the park. Métis Nation of Alberta members are granted a daily park pass for the length of their stay. Piikani and Kainai First Nations participate in ceremonial activities and events in the park (bison cull, medicine wheel, beaver bundle, traditional harvesting). A Blessing Ceremony was held in April 2018 to give thanks for the past, present and future, and to recognize the efforts of park staff during the Kenow Wildfire.

Mutual Respect

There are strong working relationships with Piikani and Kainai First Nations. The new Visitor Centre project has been a conduit to strengthen this relationship, leading to a greater respect and understanding between First Nations and Parks Canada staff. WLNP remain committed to continued engagement to ensure Blackfoot history, culture, and values are shared respectfully, and told authentically, by First Nations.

Traditional Knowledge

Traditional Knowledge Services in Kainai and Piikani First Nations are contracted to ensure Elders are directly engaged in the planning and conceptual design of the new Visitor Centre. Engaging Elders has been instrumental in building trust.

Support for Indigenous Communities

WLNP contracts Indigenous presenters to provide programming to visitors and school groups during the summer and for portions of the WLNP overnight Ecosystem Investigator Camps, which reached 4,800 southern Alberta grade five students and chaperones between 2014-2018. The Blackfoot Arts and Heritage Festival was delivered through a contribution agreement. The event reached over 500 Indigenous people and visitors. It ran from 2011 to 2018.

Parks Canada has been collaborating with the Kainai Nation to reintroduce the northern leopard frog to the Blood Timber Reserve, which borders WLNP. PCA wildlife biologists have also been working closely with the Blackfoot Confederacy in support of the Iinnii Initiative, focusing on conserving plains bison.

Employment opportunities are advertised directly to local First Nations communities. Training opportunities are available for Indigenous staff to advance their career development in Parks Canada.

Visitor Experience Indicators


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Attendance (person visit) Good Improving


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Enjoyed visit Good Stable
Satisfaction with availability of services Good Stable
Satisfaction with availability of activities Good Improving
Satisfaction with staff demonstrating passion Good Stable
Satisfaction with condition of facilities Good Stable


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Learned something Fair Not Rated


Measures Indicator ratings Trend
Overall visit satisfaction Good Stable
Satisfaction with information prior to arrival Good Improving
Satisfaction with value for entry fee Good Improving


The Visitor Experience (VE) indicator ratings are based on results of the 2011 WLNP Visitor Information Program (VIP) survey. The trend rating is based on a comparison between the 2011 and the 2005 VIP survey, as this is the only data available. Scores are mostly in the higher ranges with the exception of the learning measure. This is consistent with other national parks. Our VIP satisfaction data indicates a holding or upward trend between 2005 and 2011. Since then, events have occurred which will have a significant impact on visitor experience, though we don’t have data to indicate the nature of the impact. Visitation dropped temporarily back to 2013/2014 levels for 2018. While the park has experienced high visitation levels since the last management plan the Kenow Fire recently impacted visitor experience by limiting some activities while areas and facilities were closed.

Since the last management plan, numerous actions have been undertaken to ensure quality visitor experiences. Examples of actions implemented include: campground washroom replacement, street and sidewalk improvements, additional parking in the townsite and major day use areas, traffic management strategies and additional janitorial staff.


Visitation to WLNP has increased by 34% between 2011/2012 and 2016/2017 with 536,864 annual visitors to the park. The park surpassed the national target of 2% per year increase, except in 2013/14 when significant flooding occurred.


~97% of visitors enjoyed their visit, surpassing the goal of 90% set in the 2010 Park Management Plan. Satisfaction levels with availability of services (~95%), activities (94%) and condition of facilities (~94%) and staff demonstration of passion (88%) were relatively high.


Visitor learning scores were lower than expected (~71%). Since 2010, with a focus on incorporating conservation and restoration projects in the park there has been an increase of visitors participating in hikes and programs being offered.


Visitors are satisfied with their overall visit (~96%) and with the information available to them prior to their arrival (~90%).

Sources: Parks Canada Attendance 2017-2018; Visitor Information Program 2011 and 2005.

Built Assets Indicators

Built Assets Indicators
Indicators Measures Trend
Buildings All types Good
Dams High hazard dams, significant hazard dams Not applicable
Fortifications All types Not applicable
Highways Highways Good
Marine Structures Locks, marine rails, walls, wharves and docks Good
Roads Special attraction roads and access roads to visitor facilities Good
Vehicular Bridges Highway and roadway bridges, Canal bridges, Crossing structures Fair
Visitor Facilities Campgrounds, day-use areas, trails, parking lots, pedestrian and trail bridges Fair


WLNP has 517 assets. The most recent capital projects funded through FII are the Townsite Street Works project, the Marina Sea Wall project and the new Visitor Center. Townsite facilities have been improved through ongoing FII projects. All destroyed assets by the Kenow Wildfire have been listed as ‘disposed’ in Maximo, thereby removing them from the data used in the indicator ratings.


Post Kenow Wildfire reconstruction is still in the planning stages for repair or replacement of the following 22 damaged or destroyed buildings: 1 warden cabin, 7 kitchen shelters, 3 back-country privies, 2 front-country toilet buildings, 1 fuel shed, 1 maintenance shop, 1 generator building, 1 theatre, and entire Alpine stables site (2 barns, 1 corral and 2 residences). The remaining park buildings are in good condition. Maintenance to these buildings is ongoing.


The park has 2 Highways (HWY 5 and HWY 6 Loop) which are all in good condition.

Main Structures

Marine structures are a small portion of the asset portfolio and are rated in good condition after recent improvements. The International Peace Park sea walls have been rebuilt using FII funding.


Closure of the Akamina and Red Rock parkways post Kenow Wildfire lowered the overall condition rating. No current timelines are in place for re-opening. All other roads are in good condition. Townsite deep services (water and sewer) and roads are currently being upgraded.

Vehicular Bridges

Most vehicular bridges and culverts are in fair condition.

Visitor Facilities

Visitor facilities within the WLNP town site are in fair condition. Extensive damage to back-country trails and structures northwest of the townsite due to Kenow Fire will impact visitor experience.

Sources: Overall Asset Condition from Maximo data, Dec 2018.

Key issues

Kenow Wildfire Recovery and Monitoring

The fire affected 38% of the park and 50% of its vegetation. Recovery efforts are still underway. The majority of the west-side of the park was closed to visitors for the 2018 season (Akamina Parkway and a large portion of Red Rock Parkway). There are high expectations for the visitor offer to be restored swiftly to pre-Kenow Wildfire conditions. There is significant interest in recovery and monitoring plans resulting in an increased demand for communications with staff, stakeholders, Indigenous groups and the public.

Managing Increasing Visitation

Prior to the Kenow Wildfire of 2017, visitation levels had been increasing significantly creating traffic congestion and parking issues, especially on weekends. Strategies to manage congestion included contracted traffic control staff, an on duty manager for summer weekends and at one point a temporary closure of the gate. Visitation levels have rebounded as areas and facilities once closed due to the fire have reopened. It is anticipated that the trend for increasing visitation will continue. Considerations for a long term approach to manage ongoing congestion in the park and asset sustainability are needed.

Invasive Species

Invasive non-native plants continue to be the main stressor affecting the condition of the fescue grasslands within the park and townsite. In addition, even with restoration efforts whitebark and limber pine continue to be decimated by the introduced pathogen, white pine blister rust. Historic aquatic stocking practices have highly altered fish communities in park waters. In many locations the presence of non-native fish is jeopardizing the status of native fish populations through hybridization and competition. The stocking of fishless lakes has altered food webs and impacted zooplankton and amphibians.

Indigenous Relations and Cultural Integrity

Relationships continue to develop with Indigenous communities. We will continue to make efforts to strengthen relationships with the Blackfoot Confederacy, particularly the Kainai and Piikanai First Nations, related to Indigenous programming, traditional knowledge and traditional use.

As a result of the Kenow Wildfire, new archaeological sites were added and known extent of the remaining archaeological sites within the burn zone were expanded. Subsequently, there will be enhanced interest for programming and conservation of cultural resources.

Appendix 1: Species at Risk Indicators

Species at Risk Indicators
Species Conservation target Outcome
Bolander’s Quillwort Endangered Maintain the three self-sustaining populations Reached
Common Nighthawk Threatened Maintain occupancy at confirmed sites in appropriate habitat in WLNP. Reached
Half-moon Hairstreak Endangered Ensure persistence at known location within WLNP. Partial
Lewis's Woodpecker Threatened Maintain appropriate breeding habitats within WLNP. Partial
Little Brown Myotis Endangered Maintain occupancy and extent of distribution in WLNP. Reached
Olive-sided Flycatcher Threatened Maintain occupancy and extent of distribution. Partial
Westslope Cutthroat Trout Threatened Protect and maintain any existing ≥ 0.99 pure westslope subspecies populations. Where feasible, re-establish and maintain pure populations within historical range. Not initiated
Whitebark Pine Endangered Establish a self-sustaining, rust-resistant population that demonstrates natural seed dispersal, connectivity, genetic diversity and adaptability to changing climate. Partial

Changes in species conservation status or trends

Sixteen species that are regularly-occurring in WLNP are listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The Kenow Wildfire (September 2017) had varying direct and indirect impacts on several species at risk within the park, including olive-sided flycatcher and whitebark pine. Those species’ status and trends are under assessment. Half-moon hairstreak surveys in 2017-2018 indicated a significant population decline.

Key information and threats

The Kenow Wildfire had widespread impacts on species at risk and their habitats, and has made much of the park vulnerable to the threat of invasive species. Ongoing work will be required to understand and address these impacts. Local half-moon hairstreak recovery efforts may be required if the WLNP population is confirmed to have declined. Species at risk recovery will be strengthened by working with Indigenous communities to incorporate Traditional Knowledge, and to collaborate on SAR education and recovery. General awareness and engagement of priority audiences in SAR recovery efforts will be increased through a variety of communications initiatives.

Results of management actions

The five-needle pine Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) project has supported progress toward whitebark pine and limber pine recovery, such as identifying white pine blister rust-resistant trees and planting seedlings. Through efforts such as prescribed fire and innovative, intensive non-native plant management, the CoRe Rescue the Fescue project has improved ecological integrity of grasslands in support of several species at risk.

Completion of recovery documents or other legal requirements

The Multi-species Action Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park and Bar U Ranch National Historic Site was finalized in 2017. Recovery strategies have been finalized for six native, regularly-occurring species in WLNP since 2010. Final critical habitat has been identified for Bolander’s quillwort and half-moon hairstreak; proposed critical habitat has been identified for whitebark pine.

Sources: Information from (2017) Multi-species Action Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park and Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.

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