[Note: The following was first published in the December 2011 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
Copyright © 2011 Don H. Meredith
All Rights Reserved
(including those claimed by educational institutions and boards!)
It seems every time I go into the field, I find more reasons to be concerned about what is happening in our province. This year’s moose and elk hunt was no exception. Because of lack of luck in the draws, our team had not been in our favorite hunting area in northern Alberta for three years. It is a piece of provincial forest well north of highway 16 that has supported a healthy population of moose in the past. This year we got our draw and made our trip back to our traditional hunting grounds. After a few days of checking on familiar trails and sites, we saw or heard way fewer moose or elk and a lot more oil, gas and forestry activity than we ever had before.
Now, I know what I am describing could very well be an anecdotal situation, a one-off as it were. However, I know it’s not. I’ve talked with lots of anglers, hunters, biologists and yes, oil field workers, who report similar situations across the north, not to mention what has already occurred south of highway 16. The pace of resource development in this province is frenetic and shows no sign of slowing down. But at what cost?
I am not opposed to resource development. We all need resources to live the lives we do, and resource development creates jobs and wealth. We are indeed blessed to live in a province with so many resources that can be developed. However, must we do it at such a pace that we threaten the environmental, social and cultural values that make Alberta what it is?
As Mark Boyce, Catherine Shier and Matthew Pyper outlined in last month’s Alberta Outdoorsmen, we need parks and protected areas to ensure healthy populations of wildlife of all kinds, including game to hunt and fish to angle. Many of these areas need not restrict hunting but should restrict vehicle traffic (as in the Willmore Wilderness) as it has been proven, over and over again, the more vehicles allowed into an area, the less wildlife will remain. The Land-use Framework (LUF) is supposed to address these issues but as Boyce et al. pointed out, the one draft plan that has been produced (Lower Athabasca) is sorrowfully lacking in sufficient protected areas to secure the future of the woodland caribou, let alone other species.
While the LUF stumbles along through its bureaucratic quagmire of establishing committees, holding hearings, preparing reports and generally dragging its feet (LUF has been around since 2007 and only two of the proposed seven watershed committees have started work on their plans), it’s business as usual in most of Alberta. If one were to be cynical about the process, it would appear that industry is jamming ahead to develop as many resources as the market will bear before any real regulatory control is applied. That’s great for investors and others with little concern about the future of the province, but it could very well be disastrous for our fish, game and environment, as well as our tourism and cultural industries.
Now, I know the value of public participation in government decision making. It is necessary for governments to get the public involved so all viewpoints and concerns are represented in the final decision. However, sometimes I feel public involvement is often used as a tool to delay or indeed defeat a decision. To my mind, the process is designed (whether by intent or default) to frustrate the volunteers who donate their time, energy and expertise to assist the decision makers. I have sat on too many government-sponsored committees and groups where the time and energy of the volunteer members are bogged down in bureaucratic minutia that delays any progress that might force the government to act.
Of course, it doesn’t help to have a government that can’t think beyond its four-year mandate or understand its responsibilities to ensure environmental and cultural values. The sale of public land in southern Alberta is a good example of this lack of foresightedness. As Brad Fenson related in News, Views & Notes in last month’s Alberta Outdoorsmen, despite previous public outcries to preserve our ever decreasing natural grasslands, the government continues to sell this valuable endangered species habitat to agricultural interests with no more justification than it will make money for a few. No wonder we lose respect for a government which seems more concerned with the future of corporations than the future of the province.
And it’s not just the provincial government. Last August, the federal government released its long awaited draft woodland caribou recovery plan. It is a prime example of government interference in a scientific matter. Any resemblance between that plan and an actual recovery strategy is purely coincidental. Because conserving habitat would have a negative effect on the frenetic pace of petroleum development in the north, the plan allows for up to a 95% reduction in caribou habitat. Instead of protecting habitat, it recommends the increased killing of wolves, moose and deer in caribou areas to reduce predator mortality. Although hunters may get excited about increased opportunities to hunt these animals, the strategy doesn’t make sense if you are not going to protect where the caribou live. The recovery plan is a sham and must be an embarrassment to the biologists who see most of their work and recommendations ignored. If allowed to stand, this plan will mean the end of the caribou in Alberta and another reason for the province to be shunned.
Why should you be worried? Because the conservation of caribou and other endangered species habitat also provides habitat for other game and non-game species—creating important refuges from which these species can maintain their populations in the rest of the province. Want better hunting for moose, deer, and yes, grizzly bears? Provide refuges in the form of protected areas. They don’t have to be large, but their development must be coordinated so that they work as intended.
Which brings me back to my question, why the rush to develop as much oil and gas as possible? I know the markets are there, but they are going to be there for a long time. Despite the justified concerns over global warming and other environmental issues, use of oil and gas is not going away any time soon. Our economy and yes our culture are intrinsically married to these resources whether we like it or not. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to use the resources more efficiently and cleanly, and help develop alternative sources of more environmentally friendly energy.
Our unhindered rush to develop these resources is giving the province a bad name, not to mention the push-back, coming from both inside and outside the country, against the proposed pipeline projects. If we truly had a land-use strategy in place that preserved our wild, environmental and hunting heritages as well as our ability to develop our non-renewable resources over an extended period of time, the world would be looking at Alberta a lot differently. It can be done. It just takes some intelligence, foresight and a will and desire to want to get it right for future as well as current generations. But those attributes seem to be in short supply in our governments.
So, what’s wrong with that?