Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dr. Ted Morton - Defender of Alberta's Environment?

Well, Nation - another May Long Week-end has come. Before too much longer (if it hasn't already), the insanity will begin with grad bush parties, drink-and-quad benders, impromptu monster truck rallies and small villages of "random campers" springing up that look like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Think "Mad Max", but with more mullets.

We saw last Victoria Day Week-end the absolute havoc that was visited upon the Willow Creek area. The area Reeve even invited the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, the Honourable Ted Morton, to tour the devastation via helicopter. Scant weeks later, Morton's department came down on the shenanigans in the area, HARD, with new regulations, stepped-up enforcement, and a designated trails system to stop Quads, 4X4's and dirt-bikes from ripping through sensitive areas and to protect the watershed.

The message? Behave, or you'll lose access.

And so now we head into another May Long week-end, and the focus shifts an hour North, to McLean Creek (about 10 km from the hamlet of Bragg Creek). With access to Waiparous limited by road work, McLean - always a popular spot for quadders, partiers and random camping - is bracing for a week-end filled with mud-bogging, parties... and Fish & Wildlife Officers.

Yes, Nation, it's not just the quadders who are focusing on McLean Creek, and other backcountry areas this week-end... it's Ted and his guys.

The man who would be Premier has instead been handed the Sustainable Resource portfolio, and by all accounts has made it his personal mission to run the tightest ship possible - no cost over-runs, no shenanigans, and no nonsense. Moreso than his tenure as a PoliSci professor and tall forehead of the "Calgary School" of political thought, Morton knows he is being judged for his next leadership bid by the job he does on this portfolio.

And so as the responsible random campers and quadders - most of them disgusted with the kind of crap they see on long week-ends - nervously eye the newspapers looking for access restrictions, liquor bans, and other crack-downs that would limit their enjoyment this long week-end, they have to ask themselves whom is REALLY causing these restrictions? Is it Ted Morton? Or is it these guys?

It's no secret that Morton and I disagree on just about everything, including the colour of the sky. But if he's going to put a stop to this kind of garbage, then for this week-end only, I can forget that he's THAT Ted Morton - the one who wants to preserve this area so his friends at Spray Lakes Sawmills can log it.

The stuff you're seeing in these videos is happening in Calgary's water supply. Most of the creeks and streams in the McLean area run into Fish Creek or the Elbow River. And you'll notice that most of the chaos isn't being caused by quads at all, but by big 4X4 jeeps and trucks.

If temporary restrictions and crack-downs DON'T happen, or they don't WORK, the next logical step is a complete shut-down of the areas to off-road access and random camping - in which case the responsible users are denied access, permanently, to pay for the sins of the idiots.

What can you do, to help keep access open for the responsible users? Follow these simple rules...

  1. Don't be an idiot.

  2. If you see someone being an idiot, report them to a Fish & Wildlife Officer

  3. If you can't find a Fish & Wildlife Officer, try to get the offender's plate number, or (even better!) a photo or video with their plate in it.

  4. If you see a mess, clean it up - even if it isn't yours.

Following the above rules will help ensure that Ted's guys stay off your back, and your favourite forest recreation areas stay open. But if the idiots take hold and wreck their alcohol-and-testosterone-fueled havoc on the backcountry, don't be surprised to wake up Tuesday and find out your quad is now as useful as the Alberta NDP's election readiness fund.

It's not ALL bad news, though... some users are not only responsible when they ride, they're responsible by coming in afterwards to clean up after the idiots.

Just to address a couple points brought up in the above clip:

@ 1:20 - No, it's NOT a park. Provincial Parks don't allow any off-road vehicle use whatsoever. McLean Creek is an Off-Highway Vehicle Forestry Land-Use Zone.

@ 2:20 - Gooseberry campground is under the jurisdiction of Alberta Parks, and also contains a staffed Parks Visitor Centre open 7 days a week. McLean Creek OHVFLUZ is under the jurisdiction of Sustainable Resource Development (Ted's guys)- 2 different ministries, with different staff, covering different areas.

One last point, and this one's purely from an educational perspective.

  • Sustainable Resource Development is responsible for Fish, Wildlife & Forestry on public, non-parkland, and fighting Forest Fires throughout the province. Their officers are either "Forest Officers (or Guardians)", or "Fish & Wildlife Officers".

  • Alberta Parks is responsible for public safety, resource management, wildlife and enforcement in Provincial Parks and Provincial Recreation Areas (like actual, government-built campgrounds, or picnic spots like Elbow Falls). Their officers are called "Conservation Officers".

  • Parks Canada is responsible for everything within, well, National Parks. Their officers are called "Park Wardens".

Alberta has no "rangers", and hasn't for years. But if you're being an idiot this week-end, no matter whether you're stopped by a Park Warden, Conservation Officer, a Fish & Wildlife Officer or a Forest Officer, rest assured you're in trouble.

Take care of yourselves if you're going out this week-end, Nation. I'll talk to you on Monday.

- E.S.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Overall Ted Morton has done a good job in the SRD portfolio, which he has taken more seriously than his predecessors. Sure there have been weak points ("experimental" killing of wolves for caribou management), but he appears to be the only one in the provincial cabinet genuinely wrestling with the critical problem of habitat protection on the provincial landbase.

It looks like the the new Land Use Framework will be announced within a few weeks. If done properly, it will bring a wholesale reform to how we maange provincial land, including management tools for both resolving user conflicts, and controlling cumulative impacts on the environment.

Both of these will require more integrated planning, which means that a variety of provincial government departments, and maybe even municipalities, are going to have to work much more closely together from a common agenda. Dr. Morton will need all his political smarts to pull that off, but if he can he will truly be a champion of the environment in Alberta.

The question is, is there anyone else around the cabinet table (including the Premier) that understands the importance and urgency of this issue?