A must-see for outdoors people, The Silence of the Labs airs Friday night at 9 p.m. on CBC’s The Fifth Estate. On it, journalist Linden McIntyre documents the Stephen Harper government’s total war on the science, research and knowledge that protects our health, environment, food and water quality, fish and wildlife, etc.
The documentary will no doubt confirm and counterpoint year-end news reports on the keystone-cops farce that wildlife management has become in this country, and particularly in Alberta, where the Alison Redford government has totally destroyed its Fish and Wildlife Division and has dozens of unfilled biologist and conservations officer positions.
The last Advocate of the year and my in-box contained a half dozen cougar atrocity stories from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan where far too many of the big cats are stalking humans, particularly kids, killing dogs, etc. This puma plague is entirely the product of wildlife managers and a few biologists who like having lots of cougars to hunt with hired hound outfitters at public expense, all under the pretext of studies and research.
Wise jurisdictions — Manitoba, for example — that also have a shortage of biologists use field information from hunters and anglers to good effect in their fish and wildlife management initiatives. In Alberta, such information is derisively dismissed as “anecdotal.” Thus has been the fate of angler reports from all over Alberta of unprecedented high numbers of otters being seen on trout streams and concerns about their effect on the fishery.
Even in my semi-ambulatory state, I have seen otters in the past decade on half a dozen Central Alberta trout rivers and streams where I have never seen them before, including just sitting on my Prairie Creek benches and watching the water flow by, and readers often send me reports and pictures.
Thus I was gob smacked by a late year headline in the Advocate: Otter numbers appear low. Carrie Nugent, an Environment, Sustainable Resource Development biologist and her “team,” starting in September 2011, walked along portions of 20 different west Central Alberta streams. Thus far, Nugent has spotted only one otter in more than two years, from which she concludes: “I would say the otter population is at a really low density.” Now that is the ultimate in anecdotal!
As backup, Nugent plans to check historical trapper records of otter harvest. Those will obviously indicate great scarcity, mostly because of the ridiculously low current otter harvest quotas set by managers who have no idea how many otters we had to start with, which is why we may now have too many; same farce as with cougars.
Some time ago, we knew that there were — maybe — only 100 sage grouse left in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and that it was about to join the woodland caribou as the second species driven to extinction by the ravages of big energy. But the science-decimated federal government did nothing about it until a lawsuit by a group of environmental organizations, including the Alberta Wilderness Association, forced the feds to issue and enforce an emergency sage grouse protection order.
First, area ranchers complained that the order interfered with the way they used their land; except that, it turns out, that land is our land, public land on which the ranchers merely hold grazing leases. Now the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas Inc., both of which have oil and gas properties in the protected sage grouse habitat areas, are seeking a review-quashing six-month suspension, etc., of the order. The Alberta Wilderness Association says that any of that will guarantee the Alberta extinction of the sage grouse.
Talk about a demonstration of the unholy alliance that destroys so much fish and wildlife habitat in Alberta. The surface disturbance, noise, roads, habitat fragmentation of the energy outfits on public land is far greater than any private landowner would permit. On public land held under grazing lease, the leaseholder doesn’t care about destruction because, even though he doesn’t own the land, he gets to keep the surface disturbance payments the companies pay for the destruction of what is public — our — land.
As well it should, at the year end, the Calgary Herald was still obsessing about June’s catastrophic floods, and the absence of science figured greatly in what the paper had to say. Some fine investigative journalism showed that the reason High River was already being flooded hours before high water warnings were issued was that official upstream water watchers thought that the major watershed gauge was merely malfunctioning and didn’t trouble to check gauges on nearby watersheds that would have straightened them out in a hurry.
Then there was lighter science in an email thread asking what is the zebra trout, allegedly found in Spain. This non-scientist has the answer. The creature was created in the Howietown hatchery in Scotland in the mid-1880s by the mating of a male brook trout with a female brown trout. In North America, call the same cross a tiger trout.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.