The recent Alberta Fish and Game Association’s 85th annual conference in Fort McMurray was marked by absenteeism. Only 116 registered delegates of affiliated clubs were in attendance, down a third from the usual, last year in Red Deer, for example.
AFGA executive vice-president Martin Sharren prudently declined my invitation for him to speculate on reasons for the low attendance, but my interviewing of some truants made the obvious clear: that distance and tough travel, Hwy 63, the “Highway of Death,” had much to do with it. Many of the AFGA’s affiliated clubs, including my own, the Red Deer Fish and Game Association, did not send delegates to Fort Mac.
Environment-Sustainable Resource Development Minister Robin Campbell attended and delivered the traditional ministerial address to the AFGA, flying from Edmonton to and back from Fort Mac on the Friday.
But another Robin tragically died trying to get to the conference on the ground in the same mass-transit way that many delegates did. Robin McDonald, family man, delegate, outdoorsman and outdoors columnist for The Mountaineer, drove from Rocky Mountain House, arriving at the AFGA’s Edmonton office five minutes after the departure of the bus chartered to take conference delegates to Fort Mac.
Office staff summonsed the bus back to pick McDonald up. When it arrived back at the AFGA office, EMS techs were administering CPR to McDonald, who had collapsed in the office. Either then and there, or at the hospital, Robin McDonald, 63, died, apparently of a massive heart attack. “Robin McDonald was a strong supporter of AFGA and a defender of Alberta’s fish and wildlife; he and his advice will be missed,” a sad AFGA president, Gordon Poirier, said.
Agreed, and I am saddened, but also spooked: saddened because I enjoyed hearing from Robin over the years, and because newspaper outdoors columnists are a rare and endangered species; spooked, because Robin being such a rare given name, what are the odds of such different outcomes for two Robins — McDonald and Campbell — trying to get to and do their bit at the same conference?
When they got the news at the conference, shocked delegates contributed $1,100 in Robin McDonald’s name to the Saturday’s traditional Parade of Donations. Delegates may have been in short supply at the Fort Mac conference, but their own and their clubs’ money was present, donated and accounted for in spades. This year’s Parade established a new all-time record total, with a startling $397,000 donated; most of it earmarked for the association’s Wildlife Trust Fund (WTF) land acquisitions.
Wildlife Trust Fund co-ordinator Brad Fenson stayed home, recuperating from recent surgery, but his report, published in the Conference Yearbook, documents 2013 as a triumphant year for the trust: close to 2,500 additional acres were secured during the year, including the Lockerby, Lawrence and Underwood properties in the Pine Lake area.
The WTF now manages more than 40,000 acres of conservation and critical wildlife habitat properties everywhere in this province, all of which are open to lawful recreational uses by all Albertans. PDF and CD files of the WTF Atlas including all the fund’s properties are available on the AFGA website, www.afga.org.
The only way the AFGA could possibly accomplish more on-the-ground conservation work is with more members and affiliated clubs, which numbers are now stuck at 92 affiliated clubs and slightly over 24,000 members, still Alberta’s largest and most widespread conservation organization, by far.
Also among the missing at Fort Mac was perennial favourite, Dr. Margo Pybus, provincial wildlife disease specialist, for her always incisive and insightful handlings of Alberta’s festering, spreading, always-fatal chronic wasting disease problem among our wild cervids, mostly our deer. Pybus’s report for 2013 was present and discussed in the hunting meeting for delegates, and contained the usual ongoing bad news: the head testing program confirmed 34 new CWD “positives,” 30 mule deer, mainly bucks, and four whitetails, and that the disease is continuing its steady march westward, up river valleys from the Saskatchewan border, where it came from.
Conference delegates were also shown the shocking, frightening video No Accident, prepared by public wildlife activist Darrel Rowledge, of Calgary, documenting how our governments, stupidly, perhaps even corruptly, totally ignored the warnings of respected wildlife scientists about game ranching, and brought the CWD curse down upon our wild cervid populations.
As soon as I can accomplish the apparently impossible and obtain a picture of a live but CWD-infected mule deer, I’ll be writing a piece speculating on why it is that my beloved mule deer, particularly male mule deer, are infected with CWD to a far greater extent than our other common cervids, whitetail deer, elk and moose. The answer has to be linked to differences in habits and behaviour among the species, and I am open to hints, suggestions and help from readers, particularly longtime fans and observers of mule deer.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at email@example.com.