[Note: The following was first published in the December 2017 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
Copyright © 2017 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.
Knowing when to end something you’ve enjoyed doing can be difficult to do. Although I have enjoyed writing Rubs, Scrapes and Tangle these last 19 years, I feel it’s time to move on to other pursuits and projects. So this is my last column. I will continue to write, but having to meet a monthly deadline takes a toll on some of the other things I want to do, both as a writer and citizen.
It’s been a great 19-year run. I thank Rob Miskosky for offering me this opportunity and sticking with me when at times the going got tough. Rob and I sometimes didn’t agree on issues but he never denied my right to express my opinions as long as I could back them up. Indeed, I think that is one of the main reasons this magazine has been so successful: Rob isn’t afraid to publish a wide range of subjects and opinions.
I thank my fellow AO writers as well as members of the Outdoor Writers of Canada for their support, encouragement and suggestions. We outdoor writers are a small group, but we all share similar passions for fish, wildlife and wild places. Most important, we enjoy writing about it and encouraging that passion in others.
I also thank you the reader for keeping me on my toes. Your feedback, either through the magazine, my blog or in person, helped me understand what was concerning you and whether or not I was on track. A few of you didn’t like some of the things I wrote and let me know. Feedback is important to a writer, and negative feedback can be just as important as positive, especially if you are respectful and back up what you say. And yes, you caught me a few times not doing my “due diligence.” It has indeed been a learning experience.
Before moving on, I want to list some of my concerns for Alberta and its wild heritage. Those of you who have been following this column can guess what these are.
Habitat and Wild Places
Habitat has always been and always will be a major concern for fish and wildlife managers. All living creatures require a place to live, where they can find food, shelter and escape from predators, all within a reasonable distance of one another. In 1980 that reality was represented by the creation of the Habitat Protection and Management Branch in the now defunct Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division. That branch survived into the 1990s before succumbing to a flurry of department reorganizations and budget cuts. During that time the branch did a lot of important work in both fisheries and wildlife habitat enhancement and protection, often partnering with conservation organizations, such as the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Ducks Unlimited and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
The problem was resource extraction companies considered the branch an impediment to what they wanted to do on the landscape. They lobbied government for less stringent regulations requiring them to get projects approved by the habitat branch. The promise of jobs and money talks and it did with the politicians of the day, who decided a habitat branch was not needed. The result was and continues to be habitat degradation. Today, we see hanging culverts at stream crossings—preventing fish from accessing spawning areas and other habitat, vast forestry cut blocks in prime woodland caribou and fur-bearer habitats, and unrestricted use of off-highway vehicles, just to name a few examples.
The shame is that it is possible to have resource extraction while protecting wildlife habitat. You just have to slow down the amount of extraction happening at any one time in any one place, and ensure the extraction that’s done is done in a manner that respects the landscape and the fish and wildlife within it. That requires a government that understands the importance of having viable wild landscapes, the long-term benefits such landscapes can have on the economy, and the willingness to stand up to those who would sacrifice such landscapes for short-term gain.
The Economy or the Environment?
Often when you discuss these issues with politicians, they bring up the importance of jobs and that resource extraction companies create jobs. They argue that some wild places and portions of the environment must be sacrificed to keep people employed. But what many fail to realize is that it is not an either/or proposition. In reality the economy is dependent on a healthy environment. The lands upon which we gather our resources also supply us with clean air, water and our quality of life. Not requiring (and enforcing) resource companies to respect that environment is just plain negligence on the government’s part.
A good example is what is going on with the management of our fisheries. Instead of addressing the considerable habitat destruction that is occurring on our lakes and streams, our fisheries managers talk about restricting access to anglers: closing certain streams, only allowing catch-and-release on other streams and lakes, the latter ignoring the fact that catch-and-release has its own mortality and to my mind disrespects the fish when not taking a few to eat. When are we going to have an honest conversation about what is happening with our fish and wildlife that includes habitat issues and the true value of natural areas? Only when we respect the land, will we truly have a viable future in this province.
Climate Change and the Future
Anybody who has read this column more than a few times knows my stance on climate change: it’s real, it’s happening now and we humans are the primary cause. The science is indisputable despite what people hear from alleged news sources that have bought into the misinformation fostered by certain petroleum companies and some of their investors.
The real question we must face is what are we going to do about it. The current government has initiated a climate change strategy that is a giant step toward reducing the amount of greenhouse gases we are emitting into our environment. It’s not near far enough but it’s a start. Reducing greenhouse gases is important but, as I’ve related here before, the results of those reductions will not come into effect for 30 or more years. What awaits us within the next 30 years as a result of the emissions over the last 100 years? Neighbouring jurisdictions, like BC and Montana, have given us some ideas of what’s to come, and it isn’t pretty.
One thing is certain: We’re soon going to learn just how important the environment is to our economy and how we work, live and recreate. Wild fires and severe storms are just the beginning.
But it need not be so gloomy if our governments can start planning for the adaptations that must take place. We outdoors people are and will be the first to see these changes on the landscape. We should also be the first to report them to others.
That’s enough from me. Once again, thank you for putting up with me all these years. Although I’m moving on, it won’t be far. I will continue to write and photograph, posting some to this blog, my website and elsewhere. I welcome your feedback!
Merry Christmas and the Best of the New Year to all!
Comments are always welcome (below).
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