Editorial defending caribou lauded

More than 70 years ago I taught myself to read the coloured “funnies” in the Calgary Herald. I have read the Herald, among other newspapers, constantly since.

More than 70 years ago I taught myself to read the coloured “funnies” in the Calgary Herald. I have read the Herald, among other newspapers, constantly since.

In all that time I have become so inured to the fact that the Herald would drink the tailing waters of Alberta’s energy industry, that I was totally surprised by the lead editorial, “Caring for Caribou, Iconic animal’s domain should be more expansive than 25-cent coin,” in the May 16th edition.

The editorial calls on the Alberta government to stop the auction by Alberta Energy of 1700 hectares of Public Land north of Grande Cache, in the core habitat area of two herds totaling approximately 178 Rocky Mountain caribou, which a federal review panel says should be designated “endangered,” the highest threat level under Species at Risk legislation.

“It’s simply not acceptable,” the Herald editorial concludes, “for the domain of the noble caribou to be limited to the 25-cent coin, a place of prominence it has enjoyed since the 1930s. The caribou deserves a place in nature, not just in our pocket change.”

Well, if I can put in my two cents worth: this is typical two-bit environmental tokenism, too little and too late to save the Rocky Mountain caribou from the extinction it has been facing ever since big energy, mining, forestry, etc. started decimating and fragmenting its habitat decades ago.

Early in the editorial the Herald just had to pull its punch with this: “Albertans … are justifiably proud of the energy industry….That doesn’t mean the industry is given carte blanche in conducting its activities.

Rigorous reviews and enforcement of environmental regulations continue to raise the standard on how oil and gas are extracted in the province.”

Nothing, as other editorialists are wont to write, could be further from the truth.

What has the Herald itself been reading, hearing and seeing for at least the last half century in Alberta? Some considerable time ago, Dr. Mark Boyce, respected University of Alberta Professor and Alberta Conservation Association Chair in Fisheries and Wildlife, publicly stated that the Sage grouse and the Rocky Mountain caribou would be the first two species to become extinct in Alberta owing to resource extraction activities.

In Alberta, that is the same as saying the extinctions are the result of government negligence; it is our government that lets big oil and gas, forestry and mining get away with the damage they do to our environment, particularly our Public Land.

In my lifetime the Burrowing owl has become all but extinct in Alberta and the once abundant West Slope Cutthroat trout and our provincial fish, the Bull trout, have officially reached “threatened” status.

All of these losses are the result of government negligence in protecting our Public Land from the ravages government does give the resource extractors “carte blanche” to commit.

Enforcement of environmental regulations?

Government officials I respect tell me that you better have an air-tight case when you try to enforce environmental regulations against an oil, gas, or forestry company, because they’ll complain and you’ll be called on the carpet first thing by your boss, with your job at stake.

The Herald doesn’t even wonder how it is that Alberta Energy is auctioning this Public Land. That is simply because nobody in this government is clearly in charge of administering and protecting our public land, arguably our greatest renewable resource and public asset.

At least two candidates for the leadership of the Alberta Conservatives are talking about ending the “culture of entitlement” and promising that people are, and should be, the boss again.

One of the worst aspects of the culture of entitlement was anyone in government feeling entitled to exercise the “royal” prerogative of doing anything they please with our Public Land.

Perhaps the best (only?) thing, Alison Redford ever did was to kibosh “Potatogate,” the previous Cabinet’s under the table scheme to reward a party supporter with a sweet deal on thousands of acres of Public Land on which, allegedly, to grow spuds for chips.

That was also prime, rare, prairie grassland that was also growing many scarce native bird and animal species, including Sage grouse.

Our Public Land is an important part of the past, present and future of every Albertan. I have never understood why we don’t have a separate Department of Public Land to use what it should earn to manage it properly, and protect and maintain it in the public interest.

Such a department should include a Commission of members appointed from the owners of the land, the people of Alberta, to decide critical matters such as whether prime Rocky Mountain caribou habitat should ever be sold by the real owners, the people of Alberta.

What remains of and on the surface of Public Land will be the only public resource left to sustain future Albertans after the inevitable day — not really so far off — when the non-renewables — the oil and gas — are gone for good

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

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