Critics say crucial expertise within Alberta Environment and Protected Areas is being broken up and dispersed, weakening fish and wildlife programs that should be working together, putting responsibility for conservation within ministries where that concern may not be central, and creating possibilities for conflicts of interest.
“This is problematic,” said Lorne Fitch, a much-awarded fisheries biologist. “The functions of fish and wildlife management are split between four separate departments, each with different mandates.”
Enforcement officers devolved to the Solicitor General’s department some years ago.
Devon Earl at the Alberta Wilderness Association said what’s left of Alberta Fish and Wildlife is to be split another three ways.
Earl and others said Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation is to get provincial fish hatcheries, which stock dozens of lakes, streams and ponds with sport fish. Alberta Environment and Protected Areas is to keep responsibility for species at risk.
Deciding on how that wildlife is harvested — setting sport fishing limits, issuing hunting tags or trapping licences — seems to be headed to Forestry, Parks and Tourism.
The minister of Foresty, Parks and Tourism is Todd Loewen.
According to his Dec. 31, 2022, disclosure statement on the website of the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, Loewen receives dividends of at least $5,000 a year from a business called Red Willow Outfitting, based in Valleyview, Alta. Red Willow’s website says it offers guided hunts for bears, deer, moose, elk, wolves, coyotes, and waterfowl.
Loewen’s office did not immediately respond to a request about his involvement with Red Willow. The disclosure statement says Loewen’s financial arrangements are “in a management arrangement approved by the Ethics Commissioner of Alberta.”
Alberta Environment spokesman Miguel Racin confirmed changes to Fish and Wildlife are in the works.
“Structural changes are occurring with departments, including changes that impact Fish and Wildlife,” he said in an email.
“The work to formalize these changes is ongoing. Fish and Wildlife currently sits within the purview of Environment and Protected Areas.”
Another spokesperson said Agriculture has already assumed control of hatcheries.
But those scientists need to work together to be effective, said Earl.
“Hunting and fishing allocation is not completely separate from species at risk,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for them to be split into different ministries with different priorities.”
Putting wildlife under the control of a ministry not primarily focused on environmental protection is risky, said Fitch.
“It might provide interesting opportunities for the commercialization of Alberta wildlife.”
New Democrat Opposition environment critic Marlin Schmidt notes the United Conservative Party government has offered no notification or justification for the changes.
“Fragmenting all of those different functions makes it harder to have a co-ordinated approach to fish and wildlife protection,” he said.
Schmidt called on Loewen to explain his involvement with Red Willow and assure the public he’s not in a conflict of interest, even if he’s within Alberta’s rules.
“There are still lots of ways for him to benefit people in his close circle that, while perfectly legal, are morally questionable.”