Part of the crowd at yesterday Bighorn Park open house in Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I can’t tell you about the one in Drayton Valley on Friday, but everything seemed copacetic at the Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park proposal open house in Edmonton yesterday afternoon.

But what would you expect? As is the case in most of Alberta, one suspects, support is pretty strong in Alberta’s Capital Region for the Kananaskis-Country-style approach proposed by the NDP government for managing the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains between the Kananaskis region and Banff National Park in the south and Jasper National Park in the North.

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

All the trouble that caused the province to temporarily back away from public information sessions on the proposal seemed to take place in smaller Central Alberta centres in or near United Conservative Party Jason Nixon’s Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding, where a cadre of all-terrain-vehicle operators determined there must be no limits on their destructive hobby was accused of trying to silence anyone who disagreed with them and bully public servants at the initial public events.

When Environment Minister Shannon Phillips decided to suspend the public information sessions in January and rely on on-line consultations instead, the Opposition UCP loudly accused the government of trying to suppress widespread popular opposition to the plan.

But when the government announced early last week that a new series of open houses would go ahead immediately after all, the UCP seemed more subdued.

United Conservative Party House Leader Jason Nixon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Maybe they did some polling and discovered just how popular the idea is of a Kananaskis-style management scheme for the region, even among their own voters.

Maybe some of their own supporters in the farm and business communities had a quiet word with the UCP’s leadership about the destruction the worst of the ATVers have been wreaking on the area, including degradation of watersheds important to farmers and ranchers and damage to forestry and oil and gas corridors. Expert opinion is certainly on side with the NDP proposal.

Maybe they had an epiphany that forestry and oil and gas corporations operating in the region were more concerned about what off-highway vehicle operators were getting up to than the risible UCP claim a wildland park plan, which originated back in the days of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Dynasty, would shut down industrial operations in the area.

Or maybe they were just busy with election preparation and will spin up another big brouhaha at the two remaining public sessions scheduled for Red Deer today and Sundre tomorrow evening. We’ll see about that, I guess.

A scene from Alberta’s Bighorn Country (Photo: Government of Alberta).

But the UCP opponents of the Bighorn plan do seem to be downplaying the hysterical myths they were peddling a few weeks ago, like Mr. Nixon’s claim on social media that “livelihoods and lifestyles are at stake.” The Bighorn Country plan makes it crystal clear repeatedly that industry will continue to be allowed to operate in Public Land Use Zones, three-quarters of the area affected by the plan.

As for the ATV crowd, they’re still at it at their rallies and on social media, persisting with their false claim they will be denied access to all of the land in Bighorn Country. But even they seem to have switched their public ire to the consultation process, saying their views aren’t being paid enough heed.

This much can be said: the crowd of 100 or so at any given time during the three-hour event in inner-city Edmonton’s Polish Hall seemed well behaved enough, probably made up of a majority of conservation types with a smattering of curious Edmontonians just trying to figure out what’s going on, but with plenty of ATV enthusiasts spouting slightly stale-sounding UCP talking points last heard circulating during last month’s uproar.

Another scene from Bighorn Country (Photo: Alberta Wilderness Association).

While there were senior officials of the public service there, including an assistant deputy minister of environment and parks, no high-profile opponents of the Bighorn plan from the UCP appear to have showed up to take advantage of the presence of media. Leastways, not while I was there.

And if there was much security yesterday, it wasn’t particularly obvious. There was no shortage of Environment Department civil servants and Stantec contractors on hand to explain the displays and sign people up for emails. And some of the public employees on site were normally uniformed parks and wildlife peace officers in civvies, but there was obviously no need for a heavy-handed law enforcement presence.

The NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley has an opportunity to push this forward in a final session of the Legislature before the spring election, providing itself with a success that will prove popular regardless of the outcome of the 2019 election, one that is unlikely to be undone for the reason noted above even in the event of a UCP victory.

The UCP might file out of the Legislature and hide like they did during the abortion clinic bubble zone debate a year ago, but here’s a little bet many of them wouldn’t want to be caught actually voting against it.

That is how future electoral victories are won in provinces that have a real political culture in addition to the mere trappings of democracy, as Alberta now does thanks to the NDP victory of 2015.

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  1. I never thought to look for you there, David – we could have had coffee!

    Similar to your observation, the crowd I saw from 3:15 until 4 was definitely polite, and seemed to be largely supportive.

    I did the Alberta government survey on the Bighorn plan, including reading the profile of each of the roughly 10 sub-jurisdictions. On a couple of the smaller parks they do plan to prohibit OHV use, but by far the majority of the land in question OHV use on approved trails will still be allowed, subject to closure in wet weather, when riding the trails would cause considerable damage. This to me seems perfectly reasonable, and seems to be compatible with what user groups like Love Your Trails are advocating.

    Incidentally, on the Love Your Trails website they report the results of a survey they commissioned. In their survey, 4% of respondents acknowledged that their recreation is more more important than any environmental concerns. If this is accurate, it means one out of every 25 quad users is going out into the wilderness without caring what kind of damage they are doing to it. Sadly, the damage these irresponsible cowboys do lasts for a long time, and is what is driving people to push for an outright ban on OHVs on provincial lands.

    1. I am bewildered about the mentality of those 4%. What thought processes are they enabling to come to those conclusions? Wow.

  2. David;
    You are correct , things were very civil at the meeting , however if you had taken the time to speak with people you would have noted that well over half are actually opposed to the plan.
    Yes they “say” OHV will be aloud on “designated trails”, the problem here is there are zero trails “designated “ on the map ! Look at how they did the Castle area proposal, they said the same things. As soon as they got park status almost all the trails were deemed “unstastianable “ , but still good to use for other groups.
    They want to make it a park to “protect our water and the wildlife “ , but want to build hotels, restaurants, and attractions. How does building a lot of infrastructure and bringing in tons of tourism protect the water and wildlife ??? That would bring the bears into food and garbage odours and be deemed “nuisance bears” , they would relocate or kill them !! Again how is that protecting them ??

    1. Hadley, a mantra I try to tell myself whenever I encounter a cyclist blatantly ignoring the rules of the road, a US based tourist playing the role of the Ugly American, or even someone conforming to the negative stereotype of their ethnicity, is that you only notice the bad ones. I think (hope?) that the same is true about OHV users, and it is only a small minority that intentionally drive in streams and tear up the landscape with their machine just to stoke their otherwise underdeveloped macho ego.

      That said, it will be this minority of users that will wreck the activity for everyone. All it takes is a few of these rogues to do considerably more damage than a hotel whose location is selected to minimize impact whose garbage and sewage is carefully regulated, and it will allow a lot more people to enjoy the wilderness.

      In the Love Your Trails survey I alluded to above, they include a couple of questions that imply that only the people who use the Bighorn area should have a say in how it is regulated. The misleading part of that idea is that it ignores the people who don’t go to the area because of the unpleasant experience they have when their wilderness escape is ruined by cowboys playing Wreck the Wilderness.

  3. Actually David, with this public consultation going so smoothly I would say it was Shannon Phillips that was off base by trying to cancel them. It appears there was no risk and by trying to make the UCP look bad she did more damage to herself. Enjoy your day.

    1. Farmer B: As usual, your logic is running backwards. The Minister’s concerns about violent creeps were and are valid. No doubt the creeps have learned to be a bit more polite as a result of the publicity about this. However, you might not be aware that the policy of many non-profits when dealing with threats from thugs and creeps is to report the guy to the RCMP. Then the creep’s name is entered into the police computer system. That way the RCMP have an alert about the complaint if they stop the guy for some other reason. This is for the protection of the officer and the public.

    2. Farmer Brian, do you have proof there was no threat to Shannon Phillips if she attended the consultations? Or are you just speculating. I am involved in a recreational sport with an EX Police member who is now a security person with the government and the threats are real outside Edmonton and Calgary, and not so much in Edmonton or Calgary. People like yourself need to become real leaders and stop these threats outside of the larger cities.

  4. Thank you for this blog . There was an EPS Suburban in the parking lot carrying some burly cops on standby. There were indeed plenty of atv enthusiasts expressing there displeasure. I thought the staff did a good job trying to note everyone’s opinion. The atv crowd continue to play the victim card. I believe the mechanized users think that the government is trying to strip them of their perceived God given right to do anything they want in the backcountry. They believe that their use equals ownership. There is a complete lack of interest in conservation by many in this group and they fail to understand that all Albertan’s own this land and we all have a say. Even if you never want to set foot in the Bighorn but want to see the area conserved as wildlife habitat it is important to speak up because the opposition is loud.

  5. The ATV crowd sound much like the Alberta Grazing Lease program who are opposed to stop the government from stopping their cheap leases they hold called cowboy welfare where a few Albertans benefit at the cost of the majority. I have seen real nice crown land in other parts of Alberta where the ATV crowd have destroyed the land. Glad this government has the intestinal fortitude to do something about the Bighorn Park proposal to go forward.

  6. Interesting spin. By many eyewitness accounts, the Edmonton info session was attended by an group overwhelmingly against the proposal. The real story here is that in a city of 1 million people, in the heart of NDP support, the government could only muster up roughly 20 people in favour of the proposal.

  7. Your article is very out of touch with the opinion of locals in the affected areas. I can assure you that among people who actually live here that this scam of a plan is extremely unpopular!

  8. Typical leftist spin coming from the NDP news. Much opposition to this plan from all angles. Only the few remaining ndp supporters who never leave the city are in agreement with this plan in its current state. There is plenty of regulations now, but not enough enforcement. As usual, this government doesnt understand the difference.

  9. I think the NDP has made a mistake with the Bighorn Country process by creating so many parks and zones and not re-introducing species that have disappeared. The proposal for lots of small parks and zones has lead and will lead to more costs in the future.

    One big park, which could have incorporated all or most of the proposed parks/ zones, would have simplified things and made marketing of the park cheaper. For example, different signs for different parks will have to be made which will reduce economies of scale for purchasing signs. More paper work will be required for more parks. Different regulations and parks will require more bureaucrats to keep tabs on things.

    Having one big park is more impressive for global tourism marketing. Big is usually better. Marketing one big park is cheaper than marketing a bunch of parks. For example, consider Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho Parks. Having multiple smaller parks makes international marketing more complicated and expensive. One big park replacing these parks would have been cheaper to market and service. Why have high paid superintendents for all when you could have just one?

    The NDP plans for the Bighorn region do not include returning species that have disappeared such as bison and woodland caribou. Animals such as this should be re-introduced into the region as they would upgrade the international status of the Bighorn. If bison where returned to the region, it would open up opportunities for Indigenous and other people to obtain free range hunted meat while helping to bring back other species associated with bison. Alberta has nearly wiped out all of the Caribou. The Bighorn is an opportunity to bring back Woodland Caribou, but that can’t happen with expanded industrial development and luxury tourism facilities dotting the landscape. Woodland Caribou need old growth forest and logging in the region would have to be eliminated to bring back this species. It could take over 100 years to establish a viable population again. It is time to start.

    No development should be permitted in the Bighorn Country area. The only means of travel should be traditional methods- hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing and horse riding. This will help reduce poaching and watershed damage by ATVs.

    All trapping in the Park(s) should also be halted in the Bighorn Country region. Just in the last few months 2 wolves have been snared and choked to death in the YaHa Tinda area. The Bighorn Park should also be expanded southward to protect the eastern slopes southward towards Highway 1. Excluding the areas for protection south of the Red Deer River and Panther River makes no sense. Areas that have been harmed by industrial development must be reclaimed.

    It is time for Alberta to protect all of the Eastern slopes so that watersheds and animal populations can recover. This will provide huge environmental benefits for the future.

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