David McIntyre, Opinion
Dear Premier Redford:
You likely know that rampant off-road abuses have degraded land throughout the headwaters of the Oldman Watershed, including the Castle, Crowsnest and upper Oldman rivers. This abuse criss-crosses every tributary and climbs most mountains. It manifests itself in steep vertical scars, rutted mudflats, denuded hillsides and degraded waterways.
Several years ago I reported that it would cost society more that 200 million dollars just to initiate—to simply begin—landscape restoration efforts due to the current state of off-road damage within the Oldman Watershed. No one blinked an eye. The abuse accelerated.
The degradation of this landscape has grown so pervasive that I seldom visit Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) managed lands here in southwestern AB. Instead, I go elsewhere. I do this because the ESRD managed lands expose me to blatant, wholesale abuse—the unrestrained vandalism of a priceless resource. It's an affront to the senses, more than I can typically tolerate.
Phrasing this another way, I have, over time and with great reluctance, chosen to abandon many once-cherished AB landscapes due to the way they've been needlessly compromised. Instead, my wife and I travel to national parks, or elsewhere. We spend our available time where responsible land management practices prevail. And, increasingly, this means that we leave AB in order to find what we once experienced in AB at our doorstep.
I'm going to expose you to a single, "little-picture" component of the problem and, in doing so, give you a snapshot that reveals what's happened to lands throughout the ESRD managed Oldman Watershed.
It was six years ago that I first brought one glaring example of landscape and resource destruction to the attention of ESRD. I identified a particular scar—created by off-road vehicles—on the flanks of Tecumseh Mountain as a problem requiring immediate, essential action. (This mountain is located in the headwaters of the Crowsnest River, and its ramparts span the AB/BC border immediately north of Crowsnest Pass.)
There, six years ago, riders of off-road vehicles had created a steep, linear erosional scar. These people were using this up-the-mountain scar as a launching ramp from which they could "high-mark" on the mountain's precipitous, fragile slopes, home to some of the rarest plant species in the province. (High-marking is achieved by running a motorized vehicle straight up a mountain's flank and accessing the highest possible point. Riders often compete in these up-mountain assaults to see who can leave the highest mark on the land.)
Six years ago, high-marking on the eastern flanks of Tecumseh Mountain ended within what may be AB's largest concentration of a very rare-in-AB orchid, a big, showy species known as mountain lady's slipper (Cypripedium montanum).
My concern was registered, but, as usual, nothing happened.
I recently returned to the same avalanche slopes on the eastern flanks of Tecumseh Mountain. There, I discovered that dirt bikers have lengthened—and deepened—the old, up-slope scar. But there's more.
Riders now churn up through the entire area where the rare mountain lady's slippers grow, … before heading even farther upslope—excavating glacier lilies, mariposa lilies and other montane and subalpine species in the process—to ultimately race their bikes across the mountain's fragile alpine meadows, where the resultant erosional scars, even if the degradation were terminated tomorrow, will last for half of forever.
|David MacIntyre photo|
^A mountain lady's slipper grows on the flanks of Tecumseh Mountain. Near it, other orchids have been excavated by off-road abuses. On steep slopes below this orchid, riders accelerate along an off-road scar, then, at high speed, they climb in a nearly straight, ever-steepening ascent of the mountain. It's a wild, dangerous, uphill assault that ultimately takes them—through beds of mountain lady's slippers and other rare plants—to Tecumseh's alpine meadows. These piercing, screaming-engine attacks can be heard for miles.
Grizzly bears inhabit this same land, and there's an active golden eagle nest within it. It's home to endangered limber and whitebark pines, and home to this province's rarest, most species-diverse and most threatened forest community. This same breathtaking headwaters landscape is also home to rare, pure-strain, westslope cutthroat trout.
I don't need to communicate the fact that the wholesale destruction of a priceless headwaters landscape constitutes madness, but what's really maddening is watching—as I have for decades—as ESRD spins its wheels, thus sanctioning the degradation of an entire watershed.
I have a great deal of respect for some of ESRDs dedicated employees, but I have no respect for a department that endorses—actively or passively—wholesale landscape destruction. The people of Alberta deserve more. Much more.
I've volunteered countless hours in an effort to help society curb landscape abuses and create meaningful rules of user engagement within this headwaters landscape. Many other people have done the same. But the work of dedicated and caring volunteers will continue to be a waste of time unless this province turns a corner and begins to manage its public lands in a way that serves society, protects the ecological virtue of the land and retains the watershed integrity of the headwaters landscape.
Creating meaningful rules of engagement for off-road users is not a complex task, but it can be made complex if it's not managed properly.
I ask for an immediate action plan. Continuing to do nothing, which has resulted in the eroded, muddy mess that Albertans have inherited, can no longer be tolerated. This province needs to act today if it is going to retain heritage landscapes and watersheds for tomorrow's populace … and for an ever-discerning international tourism clientele.