West Country guardian program should be preserved: county

Clearwater County is lobbying the province to spare a program that sent guardians into the West Country to crack down on illegal quadding and other problems.

Clearwater County is lobbying the province to spare a program that sent guardians into the West Country to crack down on illegal quadding and other problems.

County manager Ron Leaf said there have been rumours that the province is looking at cutting back the number of back-country guardians assigned to the province’s popular natural areas.

Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton was pressed to outline the government’s plans at a meeting last month of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

“The minister didn’t speak directly to the question. He talked about some new legislation that was in place to allow them to address the concerns that we were raising in terms of trespassing, littering and some other issues.”

But the view of Clearwater council is that if there aren’t enough people dedicated to the job of finding troublemakers, fining them and pursuing cases through the courts, the legislation will be toothless.

Council voted recently to send a letter to the minister seeking clarification on whether cuts are coming, and if so, how deep. The county also reiterated its support for the program that assigns five Sustainable Resource Development guardians to patrol provincial Forest Land Use Areas on the eastern slopes of the Rockies in the summer. Two cover the territory in the winter.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development spokeswoman Kathy Kiel said no decision had been made yet on the guardian program. The program that was started in 2005 employs 23 guardians across Alberta to monitor public lands, provide education and enforce legislation. Leaf said the guardian issue is only part of a bigger issue about how to manage and police a back-country area that has become increasingly popular for visitors, many of them arriving with quads.

“This area, and in particular to the Crown land to the west, is a huge playground,” he said.

A five-year-old study identified that one out of three Albertans visit Clearwater County annually and about a third have quads. “That tells us that we have roughly a million visitors out there.”

County council doesn’t want to see a diminishing role for Sustainable Resource Development, which has authority over the Crown lands.

“If they’re stepping back, in council’s view that is going in the wrong direction in terms of addressing the issues that are occurring within the public lands.”

Leaf is hoping to hear back from the province on its intentions by the end of January.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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