Bighorn Country—A Good Idea We Shouldn’t Squander

Note: In November of 2018, Alberta Environment and Parks opened a discussion about its proposal for the protection of the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River, or Bighorn Country, an area that has been needing protection from abuse for many years now. There is much controversy about the proposal as many don’t want to change their behavior or understand land stewardship. Concerned for the success of this proposal, a group of ad hoc retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologists, technicians and officers, wrote the following open letter. Please feel free to share. And if you are an Albertan with concern for Bighorn Country, please fill out the survey. The deadline is now February 15, 2019.

Don Meredith

—Open Letter—

                                                                                   January 2, 2019

The Honourable Rachel Notley                           The Honourable Shannon Phillips
Premier of Alberta                                                 Minister of Alberta Environment and Parks

Bighorn Country—A Good Idea We Shouldn’t Squander

Dear Premier Notley and Minister Phillips:

We are retired provincial Fish and Wildlife biologists, technicians and officers. Collectively, we have spent 1,106 years of our careers managing and conserving Alberta’s fish and wildlife populations. It hasn’t been easy. In retirement with no bonds to government or industry, we continue to care about the future of renewable resources and want to provide a legacy for future generations. We offer this advice on the Bighorn Country Proposal, based on our observations and experience.

The juggernaut of industrial development and agricultural expansion, the proliferation of roads and trails, the explosion in use of motorized recreational vehicles, years of political and bureaucratic neglect and the overarching issue of climate change has made the task of conserving fish and wildlife at times difficult, sometimes impossible. For those who doubt we have ongoing issues, look at the number of species at risk in this province. For example, all native sport fish species up and down the Eastern Slopes have declined, are continuing to decline and most are designated as “threatened”. That indicates our land management has failed and if we continue on the same path, one of the indicators of landscape health and a major attraction for people will disappear. That revelation should alarm all of us, not just biologists.

As part of our training and experience, we realize there are limits to our resources, and we overuse them at our peril. Unfortunately, this is not a commonly held perception, or a popular one. Our landscapes and watersheds have been neglected, we expect too much of them and they are coming apart at the seams. Less than 2% of our upper and lower foothills ecoregions are protected from industry and human destruction. Yet, these are the areas that provide our drinking water, control flood waters at their source and maintain water supply during droughts. Shouldn’t we be protecting these areas vital to our well-being now and in the future?

The Bighorn Country proposal, like the Castle and the land-use plans for the Livingstone-Porcupine Hills, is an appropriate answer to the question: What do we want of our public lands? It can’t be a free-for-all anymore. We have tested the limits and many indicators, especially fish and wildlife populations, have signalled to us we’ve exceeded ecological thresholds. To lose species that are currently threatened or endangered, or to threaten our future water supply because we can’t see beyond our own selfish wants, means we don’t understand stewardship.

The combination of Wildland Provincial Parks and Public Land Use Zones in Bighorn Country will provide a balance of recreational opportunities, while protecting the ecological integrity of the landscape, its biodiversity and source of our drinking water. The plan is not perfect and will require ongoing consultation and updating, but it is the best chance we have to conserve an important component of our Alberta wild heritage for future generations.


37 retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologists, technicians and officers, as follows:

Robert Adams, fish & wildlife officer/director, 1960–1993
Per Andersen, wildlife habitat biologist, 1978-87
Morley Barrett, wildlife biologist/fisheries director/ADM, 1969-2001
Ron Bjorge, wildlife biologist/director, 1975-2016
Ken Bodden, fisheries biologist, 1983-2012
Steve Brechtel, wildlife/habitat biologist, 1974-2006
David Christiansen, fisheries/habitat biologist, 1977-2014
Ken Crutchfield, habitat biologist/fisheries director, 1972-2002
Ernest “Buck” Cunningham, biologist, 1959-1965
Gary Erickson, wildlife biologist, 1966-2002
Dale Eslinger, wildlife biologist, 1984-2014
Lorne Fitch, fisheries biologist, 1971-2006
Rudy Hawryluk, technician, 1970-2009
Carl Hunt, fisheries biologist, 1964-1997
Jon Jorgenson, wildlife biologist, 1978-2015
Gordon Kerr, wildlife biologist/director/ADM, 1960-1981
Rocky Konynenbelt, fisheries technician, 1976-2016
Allan Locke, fisheries biologist, 1981-2013
Ken Lungle, wildlife biologist, 1970-2008
Bob McClymont, biologist, 1978-2011
Ray Makowecki, fisheries biologist, 1966-1997
Brent Markham, wildlife biologist, 1972-2003
Don Meredith, wildlife biologist, 1978-2002
Rod Paterson, fisheries biologist, 1959-1971
Duane Radford, fisheries biologist/director, 1966-2002
Kirby Smith, wildlife biologist, 1976-2010
Harry Stelfox, wildlife biologist, 1980-2005
Jim Stelfox, fisheries biologist, 1979-2013
John Stelfox, wildlife biologist, 1955-1966
Bob Stevenson, branch director, 1980-1992/archivist
Jim Struthers, fish & wildlife officer, 1964-1997
John Taggart, technician, 1978-2010
Bruce Treichel, technician, 1974-2010
Daryl Wig, fisheries/habitat biologist, 1978-2012
Bill Wishart, fish & wildlife biologist, 1957-1987
Hugh Wollis, wildlife biologist, 1977-2013
Ken Zelt, fisheries biologist, 1968-2000

Comments are always welcome (below).

About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
This entry was posted in Alberta, Conservation, Environment, Fishing, General, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Bighorn Country—A Good Idea We Shouldn’t Squander

  1. Kelly Aldridge says:

    Survey completed

  2. Bravo! Thank you Don and colleagues for speaking up. So important.

  3. Scott says:

    A list of 37 government employees who failed at their mandated jobs over the course of their careers. These lands were mismanaged by the people who were supposed to manage them. It’s time to put a stop to American funded Y2Y and their green decoy Alberta BHA .

    • Holly LaBrie says:

      Wow Scott, that is an awfully harsh and erroneous statement. These 37 retired professionals are the people you need to listen too. I have known a few of them personally and they are, as Lorne said, the ones you have to thank for the land use you have enjoyed all these years.

    • Carl Hunt says:

      Scott you hit a nerve and perpetuate a myth. Civil servants ‘officially’ work for the Minister and sign an oath not to disclose any government information without prior approval. Many of us tried to work to benefit the public and protect renewable resources but past politicians usually chose to listen to industry and exploit our resources. It’s time to stop foreign funded multinational corporations from controlling politicians and infaming a few Albertans that don’t understand how we’ve been manipulated or don’t care about the future of fish & wildlife and water management in the Eastern Slopes.

  4. Lorne Fitch says:

    To Scott- Actually, it was through the collective efforts of many now retired staff that you have as much of the natural world left as you do. If we don’t protect the Bighorn all of our past efforts may be in vain. I wish you could comprehend that.

  5. Mark says:

    I believe this should be a provincial question placed on a ballot during the next election, this is too big to let a couple dozen experts and an Ndp government decide for the 3 million people of Alberta. This whole thing seems very very rushed. You can find experts for any side of any argument.

    • Al Relic Woitt says:

      Agree lets put it on the ballot in next election and let the people of Alberta decide

    • Valerie Cote says:

      Mark, you are right. It behooves us to let the people decide. We certainly don’t want to let a couple dozen experts decide for the the 3,000,000. Education, experience, and thoughtful recommendations have no place in our Alberta. I want to run my quad over all the sensitive vegetation and throw my empties wherever.

      • Mark says:

        Let’s see the Ndp try to ram this legislation through without rural consultation. It’s hilarious that the Ndp forgot to even have a consultation meeting with the town of sundre, it is no secret that the Ndp has little more than 20% support outside of Edmonton and Calgary so I can see why they don’t want to publicly have a meeting with rural residents.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Rushed, you all kidding. Landuse framework announced and signed off in 2003 by Ted Morton, Minister of the Environment. Fifteen years later we have a public proposal.


  7. Bonnie Denhaan says:

    We need to listen to the environmental experts on this, not “developers” and those who see our natural heritage as only a profitable thing to exploit.

  8. Pingback: ‘It can’t be a free-for-all anymore’: The battle for Bighorn Country | The Narwhal

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