I didn’t even try to get to the West Country on Feb. 2 to check on Prairie Rose, my favourite Prairie Creek groundhog, or woodchuck, whatever.
I suspect that the two metres and more of snow that held me back also kept her from surfacing to do her weather forecasting duty; had she done so, she would surely have seen her shadow and, given us glad tidings of only six more weeks of winter.
Usually I don’t see Rose up and about until my traditional April Fool’s Day trip, also the opening day of fishing season. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Canadian Edition, for which I write and respect for their uncanny long-range weather forecasts, says eight more weeks of winter, followed by a drier and warmer April and May than usual.
Deep snow is a mixed blessing. Rose is lucky to slumber, like the garlic we planted in late August, under that thick “mulch” of snow. People do not realize that the insulating effect of snow can be hazardous to ice fishermen who are reporting slush, water and very thin ice under the deep snow on the lakes.
Heavy snow can also be slow death for deer, which have been yarding-up for some time out there already; most will eat themselves out of yard and home, then slowly starve to death before we are done with this winter.
Forty-seven straight years, I have emerged from hibernation, deep snow or not, to attend the annual renewal and recharging of the late February conferences of the Alberta Fish and Game Association. But this year I’ll be missing from what would have been my 48th straight, Feb. 20 to 22 at the Quality Hotel and Conference Centre in Fort McMurray.
Fort Mac is too much of a trip for me in my vehicle, and I can’t handle the steps up into the buses that are chartered to take delegates from Edmonton, for example. Either way, I have yet to find a hotel that offers adequate handicapped-friendly rooms and other facilities, without which few of us can survive three days.
Even many of the able-bodied are passing on the trek to Fort Mac, which is making it difficult for me to cover the proceedings of Alberta’s oldest (106 years), largest (25,000 members) and most widely representative (100 community clubs from all over Alberta) conservation organization. But cover it I shall, with the assistance of AFGA members and staff who have been family to me, even before I served as their president from 1973 to ’75, making me their oldest living past president in terms of when I served.
I would prefer to be there to see if, unlike Diana McQueen last year in Red Deer, the new minister of Environment-Sustainable Resource Development, Robin Campbell, cares enough to go to Fort Mac to deliver the traditional ministerial address to the AFGA and, if so, to hear what he has to say. There are high hopes for Campbell, an accomplished fly fisherman and occasional guide.
As an AFGA life member and past president, I get a sneak preview of the resolutions to be debated by the delegates. I know, things change, but I am shocked and disappointed: there are only 32 resolutions, the fewest I can recall, down from only 52 last year, and a far cry from 80 to 100 way back when, among which were often some gems that gave Albertans the Bucks for Wildlife Program and mandatory hunter training and testing, for example.
Considering the quality of the officers elected last year in Red Deer, I expected several important executive resolutions dealing with the major threats that fish and wildlife, public lands, etc., currently face in Alberta. But no, virtually all of the resolutions deal with divvying up fish and wildlife among “consumers,” resolutions that one longtime conference attendee said of last year’s resolutions, “sound like a flock of ravens squabbling over a gut pile.”
Resolutions asking for hunting seasons on sandhill cranes and mourning doves are back again this year. A recent column mentioning former ERSD minister McQueen’s personally kyboshing a sandhill crane season brought this comment from reader Sandra Foss: “Just because a bunch of folks got together over a coffee and decided they wanted to shoot more stuff is not a good reason to introduce a new hunt.”
Well, hardly; McQueen was ignoring the advice of her own staff that a sandhill season was sustainable, feasible and was very unlikely to result in whooping cranes being mistakenly shot in Alberta, because their major flyway is in Saskatchewan.
If I were at the conference, I would vote no to a sandhill season for the kind of reason we are all going to have to start thinking about: because Alberta hunters are not doing enough to control over-populations of a species on which we already have hunting seasons: our iconic Canada goose.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at email@example.com.