One of my great pleasures at this time of year is chatting with the readers who drop by to pick up the books they have ordered.
Generally, these are long-time readers of this column with interesting comments, questions and suggestions.
Theme this year: is there any good news after a year of mostly bad news on the fish and wildlife and conservation fronts, both provincially and federally?
I need go back no farther for good news than a Nov. 15 headline in this paper, for the latest installment of an on-going saga of good news: “Nature Conservancy Snaps up More Rare Land in Region.”
So far this year the non-profit land trust, Nature Conservancy of Canada, has spent $5.2 million purchasing eight properties, totaling more than 2,000 acres in the Red Deer River Natural Area, including the vicinities of Pine, Buffalo and Goosequill/Hummock Lakes, to protect them from development.
The money came from the federal government’s Natural Areas Conservation Program and TransCanada Corp.
On a recent sunny weekend morning I set out to have a look at the closest of the new land buys, and immediately reminisced that I was traveling a route I often traveled in spring pre-dawns in the ‘60’s with Red Deer-based wildlife biologist and ruffed grouse expert, the late Dave Neave.
At Dave’s designated stations we would stop, get out, listen, and count the number of grouse drumming sequences we’d hear in three minutes.
In those days the drum rolls came so thick and fast they were hard to separate.
We also hunted together often out there, and reduced the ruffie numbers minimally.
Dave finished his career as CEO of Wildlife Habitat Canada in Ottawa, and I know he would be delighted with NCC’s and other land conservation group’s efforts in the Pine Lake area he loved so much.
Eventually I turned off the pavement off Hwy. 816 just north of its intersection with Hwy. 42 into the same approach as I did in so many deer hunting pre-dawns years ago.
Then, I would get out, open the gate, drive in and close the gate again, because I had permission of the owner, the late Ninian Lockerby.
This time there were no “Use Respect — Hunting With Permission” signs; the lone sign on the tree beside the gate said “Foot Access Only” confirming my information that the two quarters had recently been purchased by the Nature Conservancy.
Despite the sign, the trail in had obviously seen considerable recent vehicle travel, and I had to back out onto the pavement to let a rigful of camo-clad hunters drive out from where they should have been walking.
For some hunters, unfortunately, the habit of trespassing is so ingrained that it becomes a sense of entitlement, making them see free and open foot access as an outrageous insult.
In the ditch beside the pavement, two other rigs were parked and hunter foot prints went into some of the finest deer and grouse cover I know.
Except that, across the pavement, is the Stonehouse-Pope Property, at least a section of prime aspen parkland, full of all manner of native flora and fauna.
This tract is the result of a partnership of the Alberta Conservation Association, the Alberta Fish and Game Association and Ducks Unlimited.
Again, foot access is freely allowed, and I could find evidence of a few deer hunters having walked in, but no evidence of anyone driving in.
These magnificent preserves of biodiversity, twenty minutes from my home in Red Deer, are among the closest of the many tracts of prime habitat now protected, but public, in central Alberta— all over the province, in fact.
Over the years I have recreated myself on many of these properties in other seasons and other ways besides hunting: dog training, foraging for fungi, berries and hazelnuts and generally watching and photographing all manner of native flora and wildlife.
Anyone can find these wild places by getting a copy of the Annual Adventure Guide published by the Alberta Conservation Association, by checking the website of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, www.natureconservancy.ca, or of the AFGA, www.afga.org for Wildlife Trust Properties. County maps are also of great assistance.
But it wouldn’t be this column if it couldn’t give you all this good news without mentioning the bad that may lurk within it.
The fact is that in too many jurisdictions, especially Alberta, these land conservancy groups can barely keep up with the rate at which prime human and wildlife habitats are being alienated, developed and destroyed.
Recently, virtually with the stroke of a pen, Alberta turned 14,000 acres of priceless and rare native prairie grassland over to local governments which will hive it off as quickly as they can for “development,” meaning destruction.
Ironically, some of the land conservation groups find themselves land rich and dirt poor of the money and manpower needed to oppose government abuse and misuse of our public land. But that is another whole column….
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at email@example.com.