Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some good news: a politician who gets it

pronghorns on native grassland, by Hamilton Greenwood

Lately, this space has not been much for sunshine and lollipops, particularly since the Saskatchewan government announced its plans to sell off the last functioning grassland ecosystems in Canada. But this week some good news came my way from our more enlightened neighbours to the west in Alberta.

Now, despite all evidence to the contrary, I do not believe that our politicians are villains. For the most part they are just good ol’ Saskatchewan boys who still see the province the way it was presented to them in Grade Five. Remember those cartoon maps of Saskatchewan that showed the north half covered with trees where moose and bear stood next to lakes in which fish leaped away from fishermen? And what was down south of the forest covering the rest of the province where most of us lived? Wheat fields of course, with farmers on tractors, grain elevators, and cattle in pastures, maybe a couple of cities, a potash mine or two, some oil pumps.

If there was anything natural and wild and worth preserving on that map it was clearly in the north, the forested area that the good Lord set aside for fishing, hunting, and tourism. Everything else had been divinely ordained for farming as anyone could see.

When you talk to someone who carries such a map in his head and try to argue that grassland has an ecological value and must be protected your words have nowhere to go. Tell them that there should be a transparent public process before disposing of native grasslands and that they should consult with biologists or environmental groups or First Nations and they just look at you with blank stares. Huh? The map says this part of the province is for farming. Look, can’t you see the farmers on tractors, the cows?

Dr. Neil Brown, Calgary McKay-Nosehill MLA
Even so, there is hope. There are politicians who get it. Or at least one, anyway. Not here but in Alberta, where Dr. Neil Brown, (PC) MLA, Calgary MacKay-Nosehill is developing a private members bill, Bill 202, that would bring some transparency and public process to protect public lands that are available for sale to private interests in southern Alberta.

If Brown’s proposed bill is passed, any government reports documenting wildlife habitat on land put up for sale would have to be made publicly available. Even more important, the public would have an opportunity to comment for 90 days before the land could be sold.

Given our current situation in this province, a bill like this would be most welcome indeed. It does not go so far as to say that some lands should remain in the public trust if endangered species are on the land or if the science available advises the highest level of protection, but it is a good first step toward understanding the ecological value of public lands and letting the public intervene in a sale.

Dr. Brown knows well that if the bill did call for a mechanism to prohibit sale of public lands that he would not be able to get any buy in from his fellow legislators, especially those with the cartoon maps in their heads. As it is, there has already been some push back within the Alberta government about the bill, which will be presented in the legislature sometime in late October or early November.

All in all, we have to be grateful for an effort like this one and support it as a first step. The environmental NGO community has gotten behind the proposal, with the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and Alberta Conservation Association all so far having endorsed Bill 202. More will do likewise and for what it’s worth I have told Neil that he has my support too. I sincerely hope he can get it past the folks with cartoon maps in their heads.

If you are so inclined you can send a letter or email to the Alberta Minister of Enrivonment and Sustainable Resource Development at the following coordinates:

Honourable Diana McQueen
5136B - 52 Avenue
Drayton Valley, AB
Canada T7A 1S5
Phone: (789)542-3355
Toll-Free: 1-800-542-7307
Fax: (780) 542-3331

these guys have no doubts about what prairie is for--image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

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