In the past two weeks, I’ve seen the good the bad and the ugly over where Oldman River Chapter Trout Unlimited is perched.
First the good.
Our project vetting committee – which recommends to our executive potential projects and issues the chapter could get involved in – decided over coffee, at the Lethbridge Penny Coffee House, habitat restoration projects on Hidden Creek, Chipman Creek, Little Crooked Creek, Viccary Creek and Gold Creek were worth spending time and money on.
The fact that they are all creeks with fish that may need our help fits with the chapter’s mission (which comes directly from TU Canada) “to conserve, protect and restore Canada’s freshwater ecosystems and their coldwater resources for current and future generations.” The goals elaborate on that to include: “To conserve and protect Canada’s freshwater fish and their ecosystems and restore their coldwater resources to a healthy and productive state.”
We (eight chapter members/supporters) also figured helping a local teacher who is introducing an Alberta government FinS project to raise trout in a tank in her Grade 6 classroom is worthwhile. She’s been passionate for years about educating her students on how fish fit into the bigger picture.
Continuing stewardship of the two chapter conservation leases on the Crowsnest River at Burmis and Hillcrest is a no-brainer – we’ve been doing it for 13 years and are committed to doing it for at least another 12.
As well, an online discussion involving chapter supporters, concerned anglers and Alberta Environment and Parks, got some attention at the meeting. It resulted in a decision to do what we can to get winter aeration of Police Lake back on track. A few other lakes – Dipping Vat, Heninger’s Reservoir and Travis Lake – have come to my attention as well as water bodies anglers have concerns about. We’ll be meeting early in the new year with A E and P fisheries biologists. Alberta Conservation Association and likely the Lethbridge Fish and Game Association would/should be involved.
Good was also seen, on a posting on our Facebook page, in the federal government finally committing to the Alberta Westslope Recovery Plan by putting it into the Gazette three years after it was finalized.
However, that posting and decisions like the ones our chapter has made are not always met with unanimous acceptance.
The bad? Not necessarily, except it sometimes gets uncomfortable.
Chapter supporters are certainly not of one mind on a range of issues, not the least of which are the economy, jobs, commerce, recreation, fishing, parks, regulation, access to the back country, ATV use, etc., etc. Even on aeration, some question why TU should be involved, since it necessarily requires keeping lakes stocked with fish for anglers to catch and doesn’t appear, strictly speaking, to fit a conservation ethic, however we might define that. We are, after all, not a fishing club. However, lakes are coldwater resources that can support fish, so we can debate if we want whether hatchery fish are less worthy than native fish. But, there’s room to support both, is there not? If we can.
There’s a fine line (probably about a 7x tippet fine) between TU’s conservation mission and efforts and the fact that most supporters are also avid outdoors enthusiasts, particularly of the angling kind. Still, the range of thought within the chapter probably reflects the range in society as whole. Much of it reflects the passion our supporters have for what they believe.
Strict conservationists see in black and white that some activities on the landscape are bad for fish so those activities should stop. At the other end of the spectrum is that industry such as logging, coal mining and oil and gas production create jobs and anything that gets in the way of that reality is bad.
Both conservationists and those concerned with thriving industry have expressed disagreement with our chapter’s role lately. One, a conservationist with way more wisdom than I, wrote,
“We also need to recognize the importance of changing the planning and action ‘process’ for fish recovery plans, like the useless and ineffective ones for Bull Trout (and caribou) that have been around in various forms & versions since the 1980’s. We need to improve habitat protection legislation, regulations, monitoring and enforcement, instead of patching up a few bits & pieces of stream bank.”
That was in response to a question I had put to him about his earlier comment that “environmentalists, hunters, fishermen would do well to focus on the process and demand actions (enforceable regulations, function based reorganization) to protect habitat instead of diddling with angling regulations and more fish recovery plans (also, aeration, planting fish, pheasants and other distractions).” I wondered, in an e-mail to him, if he thought what we were trying to do was a waste of time or a distraction.
He also wrote, “We all applaud when a poacher gets a stiff fine for breaking the angling regulations but seem to ignore the industrial impacts such as the Obed Mine Spill that trashed many km of a native trout stream, or 100s of hanging culverts, that fragment fish habitat or the cumulative impacts of sediment from roads and riparian damage from the petroleum industry (pipelines, power lines, seismic) or temporary roads for logging. Why do we allow unregulated OHVs to rip up stream crossings? Perhaps today’s trout fishermen are focused on stocked lakes because they seem to accept reality that most of our native E/S salmonids are listed as Threatened or Species at Risk.”
On the pro-development side, this week a couple of our long-time supporters interpreted recent postings on the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal project and the potential impact on fish, and a history pointing out the decline of fish populations here, as anti-development. Their perspective is well understood. Unfortunately, they decided publically on social media sites to distance themselves from the chapter.
Seems to me that in all debate, respectful input is valuable. It’s important that all points of view are heard and considered. To my mind, there will never be agreement on how much development or how much conservation is enough, not enough or too much. Suffice it to repeat, the Chapter tries to follow the TUC national. We don’t have the desire, influence or resources to be lobbyists (we’re certainly not) or to demand anything from anyone. We certainly advocate for healthy water and for fish. But we’re certainly not anti-development. That, honestly, wouldn’t make sense. We do think industry can do some things better, as could we, but most of us don’t see that as an invitation for it to just go away. Some of our supporters may disagree, and do, either way.
Another thing that’s clear, is that we are all volunteers. I haven’t seen one supporter yet who is involved because they want to see fish disappear from our corner of the world, however that might happen.
So, we’ll continue to walk the line, trying to keep our mandate clear in all our deliberations and efforts, and hope that through it all, we can have some small, positive impact.
With your support, we just want to keep it from getting ugly.
Richard Burke, Oldman River Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada president