A guest post by David McIntyre
When the Government of Alberta put its stamp of approval on the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, it embraced a classic brand of made-in-Alberta management.
The defining strategy: Utilize the abuses and failures of the past to frame and fabricate the envisioned future.
Within this down-is-up—backward-is-forward—portrait …
Chaos Calls the Shots
Decades of rampant headwaters degradation, while deeply disturbing to almost everyone, isn’t worth addressing. It’s simply collateral damage, and the public’s negative response to this damage is nothing more than a chronic reflection of society’s ongoing frustration with the lack of meaningful management of Alberta’s public lands. And that’s okay. It’s time to move on.
Here in the Headwaters Wilderness, land managers don’t have the time, resources or political support to sweat over—degradation-as-usual—small stuff. They don’t have the luxury to worry about water quality, heritage landscape preservation, natural beauty, ecological integrity, endangered species, or the litany of abuses that occur. They can’t afford to lose sleep over landscape destruction, or bother to manage the off-the-chart strife created by an army of conflicting user groups. There are more important things to do.
Alberta is open for business … any business, any time, anywhere. And no business needs to be in the best interest of the public. No business needs to be evaluated based on its true cost to society. To be fair, it isn’t as if the government planned it this way. It simply hasn’t managed to prevent this outcome. It hasn’t done what it’s been elected—and entrusted—to do.
Here in the Headwaters Wilderness, society’s resource managers have taken a back seat, next to the exit. There, hidden in the shadows with hats pulled low, they monitor the situation by simply watching as the landscape’s many users, all dissatisfied, wage war on center stage.
Standing in the spotlight, freedom-fighting mountain men (and women) write their own rules while pointing vindictive fingers at these same pantywaist managers: men and women who are paid to weather the assaults, smile in the face of public ridicule and scorn.
Come on out and see for yourself. The show’s free, and it’s playing daily. And don’t forget that you, too, can join in this chaos. It’s your opportunity to become part of a deviant fantasy. Don’t worry. You can’t upset this little applecart; it’s already been flipped, smashed into a million splintered pieces.
Proponents of this brand of chaos are vocal, and they chant a repetitive demand for “Mountain Freedom.” It’s each person’s unassailable right to do anything he (or she) wants on an anything-goes landscape. Here in Alberta, on public land that must not be worth the paperwork used to describe it, you can make your own roads, smash beer bottles at river’s edge, camp wherever you like, set up your toilet on a stream bank, cut down trees, dig up rare vegetation and shoot anything your heart desires.
Here in the Headwaters Wilderness you can throw away the rulebook and take charge. It’s your land, yours to destroy any way you see fit. Faux cowboys ride this free and worthless range on dirt bikes and ATVs. Their abuse is everywhere, and it’s familiar in the way a bad neighbor is familiar. But that’s okay. This is Alberta. That’s how we like it.
Society, ever tolerant, tends to sugarcoat this maltreatment by rounding up some billboards and a few 2 X 4s to prop up a false illusion: that the word wild still exists in the Headwaters Wilderness.
The message: At the base of this tree stump is a picture of the living tree that once grew here. (Such a sign might appear on any one of the countless thousands of ancient limber and whitebark pines that Alberta Forestry Division killed—these trees were among the oldest and most picturesque in the province—before it declared these same species endangered.)
Everyone knows that Alberta’s vast herds of buffalo are gone. Fewer people are aware that sage grouse and this province’s native trout are following in their footsteps. Don’t lose sleep over these minor losses. They’re acceptable—the price of progress. Here in Alberta it’s important to keep a heavy foot on the accelerator. There’s no need to look in the rearview mirror, no requirement to protect heritage viewscapes and vital habitat, no obligation to save endangered species, or create across-the-landscape connectivity for wildlife.
Despite alluring marketing, the Headwaters Wilderness is an industrial trash bag. It’s littered with smashed cans, broken bottles, old refrigerators and yesterday’s oil change. There are tire tracks up the creek. And over in the valley, wallowing in what your grandfather called “the finest spring in the Rockies,” is a herd of cattle. Do you know how much water a single cow drinks in a day? Neither do I, but that isn’t the problem, is it?
Don’t worry. You can still hike through the heart of the anything-goes Headwaters Wilderness. You can climb the stunning mountains overlooking the magnificence of the revered Cow Pie Palace and Pipeline Provincial Park. You’ll simply share this managed forest with logging trucks, motor homes, strip mines, gas wells, drilling rigs, equestrian operators, hunters, social deviants, family gatherings, bush partiers, Sunday drivers, target shooters, dirt bike rallies and thousands of cows. This heavenly expanse is connected by roads—lotsa roads.
Be careful! You can still get a mosquito bite in this wilderness, and the bite may itch. But if it gets too bad, hit the throttle. You’ll be back in town in no time.
I’ve brought you to the Headwaters Wilderness just in time for a High Noon showdown. The cast includes a grimy gang of despicable desperadoes. Everyone faces-off at a four-way intersection under the hot, harsh light of mid-day. The motorized lineup includes logging trucks, cattle liners, two drilling rigs, dozens of pickup trucks, a fleet of SUVs and a darting, lurching, ever-frenetic army of off-road ATV riders and dirt bikers.
Dust is thick. Black smoke belches into a blue sky. The din of revving engines drowns out conversations, and the exhaust is choking. As we watch, two coyotes race past a group of wild-eyed broncos and a herd of nervous cattle moves toward the competing lines of stinking, gridlocked traffic. The camera catches this action, then comes in for close-ups of the taught faces of the diverse, unflinching combatants.
Time stands still, and no one blinks. All eyes are on the Crossroads From Hell. Tension fills the air as nervous seconds pass… and then the rule of the wilderness prevails: The biggest rig goes first!