There is something I don’t get about the NDP government: sometimes they are excellent at consultation and get it right, and sometimes they are awful at it and create a fiasco.
An example of the excellent: getting broad-based buy-in on changes to the oil and gas royalty framework. An example of the awful: changes to the Castle Parks and Wilderness area that will ban off-highway vehicles and random camping.
You would think that overhauling the royalty framework for Alberta’s most important industry would be somewhat more complicated than designating 103,000 hectares of parkland. Apparently not.
In January, the government announced changes to the Castle area making it off-limits for certain uses, and they have been on the defensive ever since from off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and random campers outraged that they will be banned from their favourite wilderness areas virtually overnight. Every week brings a new town hall, or protest, or Facebook group calling out the government for its heavy-handed approach. In response, the Minister has extended the consultation period, offered public information sessions and committed to a slower phase-out, but it seems they otherwise won’t budge from the original plan for a ban.
I don’t ride off-highway vehicles or random camp, so I don’t have a personal stake in the outcome. I have interviewed Minister Shannon Phillips, a Yukon to Yellowstone spokesperson, and a representative from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. I get that the area is grizzly bear territory, that the habitat is sensitive and that the headwaters produce clean drinking water for downstream users. I also understand that some areas have been damaged by overuse and irresponsible users and need a break.
What I don’t get is the idea that you punish an entire community of outdoor enthusiasts for the bad actions of a few. It stretches belief that in 1000 square km of land area that make up the Castle, there isn’t a single place that is resilient enough to be designated for use by OHVs or random campers. In fact, it sounds like the government is just being punitive to make up for years of lax enforcement.
The Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association has put forward a reasonable solution: increase the annual license fees for OHVs by $50, and designate the new funding to maintain and police the trails. That way, those who are the principal users of these routes will be responsible for paying for the upkeep without any impact on taxpayers.
Without this kind of approach, the government is just inviting people to become scofflaws – which will create more harm to the environment and an even greater enforcement headache.
Parks aren’t just for preservation; they are also for people. With a little more consultation, and a little less dogmatism, the government should be able to find some middle ground.
The first information session is in Pincher Creek on March 10 and the consultation runs until April 19. If you have any comments on this issue, let me know at email@example.com.