Alberta's cuts harm nature when we need it most - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Alberta’s cuts harm nature when we need it most

A bison on the prairie

The following opinion piece, written by Y2Y co-founder Harvey Locke, originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal on April 14, 2020. A conservationist, writer and photographer, Harvey is also lead author of The Last of the Buffalo: Return to the Wild.

On Tuesday, April 7, the premier drew on nature to describe how Albertans should come together like a buffalo herd to face directly into the COVID-19 crisis and economic storm.

Bison resolutely coming together is an image rich with emotional power, fit for a people who love nature and are not afraid of hard work. It is a call for unity in the face of adversity. Unity is good for us in troubled times for it is a source of both strength and solace. Count me in as a member of the herd, for I love Alberta.

Solidarity demands of us all that, no matter our political leanings, we listen to and support the government as it works to secure our safety. We must also honour the people who bravely protect our healthand the farmers, truckers, and grocery store workers who provide food.

Solace, the deep comforting and relief from anxiety we all need in order to be resolute, is as important as strength. It demands we be kind to each other, stand in solidarity with the vulnerable, and cherish what we deeply value so we can close ranks with physical and emotional courage.

For many, including me, nature is a place of solace and a source of hope. I am deeply concerned about her vulnerability. My feelings are well expressed in Aldo Leopold’s description of a world divided between those who can live without wild nature and those who cannot; like him, I am one who cannot. I hold our parks dear; I hold the rest of life — especially buffalo — dear.

When a government calls for solidarity, it is no time for it to attack what provides solace to many. Yet with its recent assault on nature that is exactly what the provincial government is doing.

On March 3, before the pandemic became our collective priority, I was appalled to hear the government announce the closure of parks and Kananaskis’ visitor centres. I am not alone. Recent polling shows outrage at privatizing parks and closing visitor centres is widely shared by my fellow Albertans.

Parks are a public good in which we can all take equal pride. They are a source of great comfort in times of stress; we should be working on how to make them safely accessible to as many Albertans as possible during physical distancing, not getting rid of them.

Next came an indirect assault on the vulnerable — our voiceless wildlife. Last month, the provincial government commenced selling off publicly owned native grasslands, the last refuge of our most endangered species, to private interests. This new initiative is occurring during a widely acknowledged global species extinction crisis.

Then, earlier this month, the province suspended environmental reporting obligations for industry. Such an abdication of responsibility to monitor and protect the public interest while climate change is accelerating is wholly irresponsible. We still need clean air and clean water.

These efforts are off-message and wrongly alienate many Albertans at a time when the premier is rightly calling for solidarity.

“Parks are a public good in which we can all take equal pride. They are a source of great comfort in times of stress.”

Harvey Locke

We know this devaluing of nature is not driven by any fiscal need. Simultaneously, the government has announced it will give the oil industry billions in cash and loan guarantees.

Solidarity in a time of crisis is something we have a right to expect from our government as much as the government has the right to expect it from us. Solidarity with Albertans like me who cannot live without the solace of wild nature means protecting our environment, ensuring public access, and not turning a blind eye to its destruction.

This buffalo is prepared to do his part and face the storm. It is only fair to ask the government to stop driving me and people like me from the herd. The government’s recent actions against the health of the natural world are physically destructive to our home, our fellow creatures and emotionally devastating for the many Albertans who hold nature dear.