Monday, April 9, 2012

Castle Area Redux: Thin Edge of the Wedge

As a senior in high school I was what I call an "eco-freak".  I was perennially on the board of Pollution Control Southern Alberta, wrote endless letters to politicians and academics, and marched in demonstrations with an old gas mask on to make the point about toxic chemicals.  As an undergraduate chemistry major I ran Pollutant Analysis of the Oldman River (our data was later used to fine coal companies polluting the headwaters).  Ecology was my favourite subject.  Before my doctorate, I researched mercury pollution in the North Saskatchewan River under the auspices of the Faculty of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology.  And after graduation my new bride and I headed for the hills Out Here where we built a passive solar house - and washed, crushed, and saved our tin cans for months so we could recycle them in Lethbridge, 75 miles away, because no local recycling facility existed back then.  Most recently, I spent two years as a consultant on a CO2 sequestration project.  I am not pro-logging.  No one can accuse me of lacking "environmentalist" credentials.  (In fact, I believe most people are "environmentalists".  They may not realize it (or may even deny it because of the antics of radicals I call "eco-terrorists"), but deep down we all want to leave the planet a better place than we found it - my personal definition of the term.)  Why then do I find myself often at odds with local so-called "environmentalists"?  Is it because they protest everything everywhere all the time?  Is it because they do so supported in part by government grants (your tax dollars and mine)?  A case in point is the current furor over logging (duly advertised, approved, permitted, and supervised) in the Castle area of Southern Alberta.  Declaring the area a "Wildland Park" would apparently stop the logging but still allow other traditional uses of the current Forest Reserve according to those leading the charge.  But for how long?  Many of these same people are well-known to want nothing less than a Wilderness Park out there.  Only a massive effort twenty years ago before the Natural Resources Conservation Board allowed our local ski hill to finally become a viable entity in the face of steep opposition from these same folks.  But they never give up.  As soon as the ski hill tried to expand onto an area it had long leased from the province, it was taken to court over the need for a new Environmental Impact Assessment - when a very recent (and very expensive) one already existed from said NRCB hearings.  After losing that battle at the Alberta Court of Appeal, peace descended over the land - for a couple of months.  Their newest ploy was to have the province declare the existing Forest Reserve the "Andy Russell Wilderness Park", which would again have shut down everything and locked the gate on a popular recreational asset and economic generator.  Local politicians were nearly hoodwinked into writing letters of support for that initiative, unaware of the group's ultimate goal.  And it's the same with the current anti-logging issue, in my view.  The thin edge of the wedge.  First shut down logging.  Then random camping.  Quad and snowmobile use will be next.  And then the ski hill will be judged incompatible with wilderness.  And then what would happen to the local businesses and recreational pursuits these people claim to be trying to protect?  (photo credit: sierraclub.ca)