[Note: The following was first published in the July 2015 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
Copyright © 2015 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.
We are at a turning point in the history of this province. A totally new government is taking over with a considerable mandate to make changes that will alter the course of our future. There is no better time for citizens to inform their government representatives about what they would like that future to be. The following is an abbreviated version of a letter I sent this June to Premier Notley and Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks.
Dear Premier Notley and Minister Phillips:
Re: The Loss of Effective Fisheries and Wildlife Management in Alberta
I am writing to bring to your attention the previous government’s abrogation of responsibility for the conservation of our fish and wildlife resources and heritage. We have lost much over the last decades in terms of the natural heritage residents and visitors come to this province to enjoy. In our headlong pursuit of non-renewable resources, we have neglected the renewable resources that help balance our environment and provide recreation and spiritual growth.
Although much opportunity has been lost to conserve and maintain our fish and wildlife, I feel there is still a chance to make things right. Yes, the extraction of oil, gas, minerals and timber provides jobs and contributes to the economy, but must we do it in such a manner that degrades our environment and enjoyment of the natural world? Wildlife watching, hunting, fishing and trapping also contribute to the economy but in a far more sustainable way if properly regulated. What we need in this province is a more balanced approach to resource use.
The following are my recommendations:
- Re-establish the Fish and Wildlife Division or similar agency the public can recognize as being responsible for the conservation and protection of our fisheries and wildlife resources, including habitats. Bring the Fish and Wildlife Officers back from Justice and Solicitor General into this division. These officers work closely with the biologists, and all should work under one roof to maintain common goals and continuity. The fish and wildlife resource is unique in that it is mobile and not tied to one piece or type of land. It resides on crown and private land and easily traverses from one to the other. By necessity, wildlife managers (whether biologists or officers) must work with others who manage the land, whether government or private, to achieve success. A single agency responsible for fish and wildlife ensures policies and goals remain in focus and not varied and dispersed.
- Take measures to protect our headwaters. These are the sources of our major rivers and drinking water. For too long, resource extraction companies have been ignoring regulations and the government has not been enforcing them to protect streams from the effects of disturbance in the watershed. Our water quality and fisheries have deteriorated as a result. Protected areas need to be established to ensure development and use of motorized vehicles are restricted, while allowing people access on foot or horse to fish, hunt or just enjoy the wilderness.
- Take measures to protect the boreal forest, a crucial environment protecting water resources, maintaining air quality, sequestering carbon and ensuring the diversity of fish and wildlife, including many migratory waterfowl and songbirds, and threatened species such as the woodland caribou. Over the years, resource extraction has profoundly fractured this forest in Alberta and endangered watercourses. The forest needs to heal so that it can continue to provide the environmental services that all living things require.
- Protect the woodland caribou, a threatened species. It is the responsibility of both federal and provincial governments to ensure the preservation of threatened and endangered species. Yet, on both the federal and provincial level, the woodland caribou has been pushed aside to allow forest and petroleum companies to harvest and carve up the animal’s crucial winter habitat, old-growth forest. The wolf culls that are occurring in northern Alberta are not a fix to this problem. It doesn’t matter how many wolves you kill if the caribou do not have a place to live!
- End the poisoning of wolves. The controversial wolf-poisoning program, occurring in northern Alberta as part of the wolf cull to temporarily protect woodland caribou, is killing a lot more species than wolves. Trappers in those areas report seeing many carcasses of bears, weasels, fishers, eagles and other predators. The Alberta Fish and Game Association, along with many other conservation groups has condemned this method of predator control for many years because it is inhumane and kills more than the target species. Again, this wolf cull would not be necessary if the government had been serious about regulating forest and petroleum companies.
- Protect our fisheries. Over the past decades, the government has allowed our fisheries to deteriorate, conveniently blaming the angler for the problem, when it was lack of concern for fish habitat that was the true cause. I direct you to an essay, Two Fish, One Fish, No Fish written by former Alberta fisheries biologist Lorne Fitch that perfectly describes what has been lost and what can be done to bring our fisheries back to their former glory. This used to be a great place to fish—attracting people from near and far to catch a wide variety of species, including northern pike, lake trout, walleye, Arctic grayling, and rainbow and cutthroat trout, just to name the most popular. Now, we find ourselves chasing too few fish in deteriorating habitats. It need not be so.
- Review the need for the recently created Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), a non-government agency. If you look at the board of directors of this organization, you find that most come from energy backgrounds, strongly suggesting conflicts of interest. I feel these functions should be returned to the Alberta Government where environmental and natural resource managers can integrate the work being done into the priorities of the government, not resource extraction companies. As I’m sure you are well aware, there is a great need for transparency in government decisions. To hide such decision behind corporate doors where values may not be the same as those of most Albertans is not the correct use of government resources.
- Review the need for the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA). It was created in 1997 when the government threatened to place all fishing and hunting licence fees into general revenue instead of a portion going into the Buck for Wildlife Program for habitat protection and improvement. The ACA was created as a “delegated administrative organization” to oversee the spending of the licence-fee funds for habitat protection and other conservation initiatives. The problem is that non-government biologists at arm’s length from government now do much of the work that used to be done by government biologists with common goals and objectives. Administrative costs come out of the funds that used to go directly to conservation projects. Perhaps its time to pool resources and start working toward common goals.
I realize this is a long list, but much has been neglected over the years. Please remember that many Albertans are concerned about these issues and have joined various conservation and environmental organizations to voice their views. These groups can provide people, insights and valuable resources to discussions about these issues.
Thank you for your time.
Comments are always welcome (below).