For Alberta off-highway vehicle users and an increasing number of user groups, municipalities and First Nations to say the provincial government’s approach to consultation regarding public land-use policies has been troubling would be an understatement.
The Bighorn Country proposal is just another example of the NDP government’s disregard for stakeholder and public input, leading to the increasing strain between backcountry users and the government of Alberta.
The Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association and the more than 165,000 trail users in the province feel the government’s consultation process is fundamentally flawed.
First, the government is failing to follow its own framework by ignoring the significant participation, effort and recommendations of the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan. It seems the government has decided to ignore legislated process, frustrating not only those who contributed to the plan, but backcountry user groups as well.
Second, many from the off-highway vehicle user community sense the decision has already been made. It seems that no concern or solution raised by the community throughout this consultation process will ever find its way into government policy.
Those who suspect as much have good reason to. In fact, many off-highway vehicle trails in the area have been closed already.
In 2017, not one of our organization’s recommendations to achieve an environmentally responsible, financially sustainable solution in the Castle area were acknowledged by the government.
Rather, when the government had completed its consultation process, it was announced that all off-highway vehicle trails in the Castle area would be closed.
In subsequent consultations for the Livingstone-Porcupine Hills Recreation Management Draft Plans, our association presented extensive feedback. None was reflected in the final version.
Third, falsified allegations of harassment and abuse during consultation sessions made by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips have served to delegitimize the process.
Phillips, who should be a leader in this process, has lost the trust of the off-highway vehicle community and the association membership has subsequently lost trust in the minister to impartially assess and respond to this issue.
Last, the government seems to value the input of foreign-funded environmental non- governmental organizations more than local off-highway vehicle users who have spent thousands of hours and invested millions of dollars on environmental stewardship.
Look no further than the research conducted by Vivian Krause, uncovering how foreign funding has infiltrated the non-profit sector to influence public policy.
Off-highway vehicle users consider themselves conservationists. They have a vested interest in ensuring the backcountry is preserved for future use.
Despite the NDP government’s and ENGOs’ attempts to paint them otherwise, the vast majority are supportive of regulations that will enhance enforcement so that those who disrespect the privilege of using public lands for recreational use will face the appropriate consequences. Notably, those regulations are in place today.
The is a solution-based organization, with volunteers who have years of real-life, on-the-ground experience and expertise in designing, building and maintaining sustainable off-highway vehicle trails and infrastructure.
Combined with our organizational strength and leadership, we can be a valued contributor to land-use planning decisions. However, to do so, we must be provided with legitimate opportunities to affect change where our inputs are seriously and thoughtfully considered by the government.
One thing is for certain: the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association is motivated to ensure responsible users do not lose the opportunity to experience Alberta’s backcountry.
Election year or not, this government should reconsider its approach on the Bighorn Country proposal and immediately work to repair a consultation system that is broken – a system that reflects the ideological agenda of the NDP government and serves the interests of foreign-funded ENGOs rather than everyday Albertans.
Brent Hodgson is president of the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association.