An energetic meeting for AFGA

The theme for the 86th annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association held in Lethbridge from Feb. 19 to 21 was Youth — The Link to the Future. Appropriately there was a sense of energy and renewal in what most delegates were calling the best-run conference in several years.

The theme for the 86th annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association held in Lethbridge from Feb. 19 to 21 was Youth — The Link to the Future. Appropriately there was a sense of energy and renewal in what most delegates were calling the best-run conference in several years.

In fact, 163 registered delegates of 92 affiliated AFGA clubs attended this year, compared to only 109 at last year’s conference in Fort McMurray, which also lost $24,000.

This was a major election year in the association’s two-year cycle.

For 12 years the rallying cry has been “the south will rise again” after a string of six presidents, all from Northern Alberta, and this year the south has risen in spades.

First vice-president, Wayne Lowry of Stirling, becomes president for two years and former second VP, Doug Butler of Lamont, moves up to first VP, both by acclamation.

The new “kid” on the top executive block elected as first VP is also from the south, Brian Dingreville from Coalhurst, a realtor, past-president and Life Member of the Lethbridge club, past chairman of the AFGA’s Zone 1, and a “throwback hunter” from a camp with horses.

Just prior to the Friday luncheon he hosts, it took Environment-Sustainable Resources Minister Lyle Fawcett just 10 minutes to read the traditional ministerial address to delegates, during which he did not once deviate from the ghost-written boilerplate script of the past decade to announce any plans, other than policy tweaking, he had for his department.

Last year in Fort Mac, then-minister, Robin Campbell, had plans.

He did end Alberta’s unsustainable commercial fishery as he promised, and we await the 2015 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations to see what else he might have accomplished in his too-brief tenure in the ESRD portfolio.

Fawcett did take a few questions after his speech, provided they were submitted an hour in advance and judged “askable” or not by a staff member.

The minister answered one question by saying that he’d already had one conversation with the premier about moving fish and wildlife officers from Justice back to ESRD, and would mention it again.

New president Wayne Lowry, spouse Leslie, and their son and two daughters are all active outdoors people who also work hard and long for the resource.

Wayne is a chartered accountant with Farm Credit Corporation in Lethbridge and a longtime detail person for the AFGA who recognizes and specializes in the big issues.

Big things are expected from Lowry, as can be seen from what he told me right from the start of his presidency: “… the AFGA senior executive met with AESRD Minister Kyle Fawcett, for about 45 minutes after his minister’s luncheon address.

“We talked at length about issues relating to cumulative effects, status of policy development, wildlife management plans, and public lands.

“The topics on public land were access to them by the public at large, and with regards to the lease payments. We made it very clear that we want to bring an end to the misguided practice of allowing the lease revenues, arising mainly from oil and gas activities, accruing to the benefit of private interests through the Agricultural Disposition programs.

“We emphatically stressed to him that these are public lands and that any revenues accruing to the lands also become the property of the public. We suggested that these funds be set aside for projects relating to the benefit of other public lands that need habitat reclamation or improvement. He indicated that he has only been in the position for about four months and it was not the first that he had heard of this issue.

“The big question is whether or not he will be there long enough to do anything about it.”

The new president has that right, and AFGA executive vice-president Martin Sherran alludes, in his Conference Report, to the political problems in getting anything done in today’s Alberta: “… since 2001, ESRD, or whatever its name of the day was, has had no fewer than eight ministers, five premiers, three leadership contests and one big reorganization. In 2014 alone, we’ve had three premiers!

“As far as the ministers are concerned, average time in the portfolio is approximately 21 months each.”

In many other ways, 2014 was a great year for the AFGA.

The record total of $397,825 in the Parade of Donations set at last year’s conference is reflected in a record of 12 new properties, totaling 2,135.25 acres, being added to the Wildlife Trust Fund lands, bringing their total to slightly more than 41,000 acres of prime property open to lawful recreational on-foot use by all Albertans. Delegates at this year’s conference defeated a motion to allow ATV use on WTF properties, even for retrieving big game.

This year’s Parade of Donations was back to merely normal: $53,898 donated in 10 minutes by members and their clubs.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.