I attended the Pine Lakes Surface Rights Association (PLSTA) meeting in Trochu on April 14.
Surface rights groups, such as the PLSTA, provide a wealth of information for landowners and this meeting did not disappoint. As the evening progressed with presentations and discussions regarding numerous pieces of legislation affecting landowners, I was corralled into a conversation with some farmers and industry members on the subject of clubroot.
Clubroot is a serious soil-borne disease that can financially cripple a farmer. The spread of clubroot is also a very serious environmental concern for Alberta’s government.
So you can imagine my horror when one of the industry members in this conversation admitted that a company was willing to risk the spread of clubroot to save a few dollars. What I learned from this individual was that this company planned to use cheaply constructed oak drilling mats with full knowledge that it may be assisting the spread of clubroot — instead of using a higher quality, more locally produced lodgepole pine drilling mat.
Drilling mats are best described as wooden decks used to park or drive heavy equipment on when operating on sensitive lands — such as a farmer’s field.
Since oak is not native to this area, to be cost competitive, lesser quality oak is used to construct the oak drilling mats. The lesser quality oak and the inferior construction process make oak mats cost competitive, but the oak mats break apart more easily than lodgepole pine, and that leaves behind numerous discarded carriage bolts and piles of coarse, woody debris.
It is the woody debris that causes the greatest concern for the environment. The industry member I spoke to admits that he is fully aware that the inferior oak has a higher risk of being infected with an aggressive fungal pathogen known as oak wilt disease. He also acknowledged, due to the many similarities, that there is a possibility of a direct relationship between the spread of oak wilt and the spread of clubroot.
Now, I can understand why a company would decide to pay less for a one product verses another if all things were equal. However, I find it despicable behaviour when a company admittedly ignores “risks” with the intention of passing along the cost of the environmental damage, should it arise, to the uninformed farmer.
One doesn’t need to wonder which mat a farmer would choose if given an informed choice. The fact is, farmers do have a choice, but there is little consequence for a company if they fail to inform a farmer, so that he or she could make an informed choice.
Property owners and farmers should demand that lodgepole pine mats be used on their property just as a precautionary measure, but Alberta’s government should require their use regardless because it supports our local economies.
Lodgepole pine drilling mats are harvested and built right here in Alberta and in Western Canada. Their use eliminates any real or perceived environmental risks associated with the lesser quality oak mats, and from a provincial government’s perspective the use of lodgepole pine drilling mats contributes to the employment of thousands of Albertans. The decision to require the use of lodgepole pine mats is a no-brainer.