Destructive behaviour

At last count, I’ve been owned by eight SUVs in the last 50 years, three Jeep Wagoneers, and five Toyotas of various models, including two diesel Landcruisers, my favourites. I have always been annoyed about the constant media prejudice against SUVs.

At last count, I’ve been owned by eight SUVs in the last 50 years, three Jeep Wagoneers, and five Toyotas of various models, including two diesel Landcruisers, my favourites.

I have always been annoyed about the constant media prejudice against SUVs.

But I am even more outraged by SUV television ads, such as the current one where the voice-over tells us “whoever said you gotta know your limitations never drove one of these” just before the Jeep Wrangler plows through a stream. That sort of thing, plus a plunge in Jeep reliability and quality, turned me toward Toyota.

Recently I quit watching an otherwise fine TV outdoors show, Michael Short’s Let’s Go Outdoors, because of the constant disgusting images of its sponsor, ARGO Amphibious ATVs, tearing up trout rivers and streams and other aquatic environments.

These irresponsible TV ads aid, abet and encourage the kind of illegal behaviour depicted recently in The Calgary Herald: a dim bulb and his dog in a red Jeep Wrangler, out for a joyride in the Bow River, arguably one of North America’s top trout rivers.

This destructive behaviour was once rare, before the Kamikaze 500s, the tin toys of the gormless with too much money and too few brains, became all the rage. Occasionally I’d see a half-drowned half ton out in the middle of the Red Deer and Ram Rivers with drunken and marooned drivers who’d lost bets that they could drive their now ruined rigs all the way across.

The day after The Herald’s Jeep picture, the Alberta Wilderness Association issued a press release, “War on trout: Destructive Activities Cripple Native Trout Populations,” in which it warns that a new review of overlapping human impacts throughout the Oldman River watershed shows virtually every creek and river home to native trout has been negatively impacted or is threatened by logging, off-highway vehicle use, stream crossings, oil and gas development, coal mining, over-harvesting, roads, dam operations or combinations of these.

Bull trout are classified as “Threatened” under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. They are also currently under review to be added to the federal Species at Risk registry, after the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed them as “Threatened” in 2012. West slope cutthroat trout are listed as “Threatened” under both SARA and Alberta’s Wildlife Act.

That off-highway vehicle use should be listed and ranked up there with industrial land destruction as a threat to our native trout is particularly distressing because the ATV-SUV operators always profess to love the outdoors and outdoors recreations, particularly fishing.

Not only do ATVs damage and destroy fish and wildlife habitats, they maim and kill humans at a rate far exceeding that of any other outdoor recreation.

Dr. Louis Francescutti, an emergency physician and director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, has said that Alberta has an ATV injury-death rate, particularly of children, that’s so high that a cultural shift needs to take place to end the constant carnage.

Alcohol and joyriding rough country in the dark are too common factors in ATV “accidents,” serious injuries and deaths.

Hunting “accidents” are now unusual in Alberta in most years, owing entirely to the mandatory federal Firearms Safety Training and the Alberta Hunter Education courses and exams you must take and pass before you can possess a firearm and obtain a hunting licence.

A mandatory course and exam is urgently needed in how you operate and treat your ATV safely, and how you treat other people and public land, including the beds and shores of our rivers, lakes and streams. That should be before you can obtain a new annual $50 licence to operate an off-highway vehicle on public land. Why should hunters and anglers be the only Albertans who have to pay to use public land?

I’m betting such initiatives would greatly reduce the ATV carnage, both to humans and to our public land, rivers and streams.

That carnage was still taking place on one of Alberta’s premium angling events: the June 16 season opening on the Ram River system, as too many ATV-anglers were using the rivers themselves as roadways to the best fishing holes.

Ironically, the best “native” west slope cutthroat fishing left in Alberta is in the North and South Ram Rivers. The fishery was created in the late 1950s and early ’60s by bright, hard-working Alberta fisheries biologists planting the rivers, which were devoid of fish above impassable falls, with west slope cutthroats. It remains the first and last real initiative on behalf of this now-threatened native species in Alberta. I caught my first one of hundreds since in the pool just above the bridge at the main falls on the South Ram.

By all reports, the Ram fishing was prime on opening day this year; the irony is that these cutts are not real Alberta natives, but the descendants of immigrant west slope stock from a hatchery in Cranbrook, B.C.

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

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