In Alberta, we love the land. The care and sacrifice that many family farmers and ranchers put into keeping native vegetation healthy and the efforts they make to coexist with wildlife is evidence of that. So are the overflowing parking lots and crowded trails in Alberta’s provincial and national parks. Albertans will get up before dawn and hike long miles to find favoured fishing and hunting spots in some of the most beautiful places on the planet, because it makes them whole. Others volunteer for birdathons and weed pulls and stream rehabilitation work days because it makes them real. Albertans helped save the whooping crane and peregrine falcon from extinction, because conservation really, really matters to us.
So it seems strange that our politics seem to be about other things. The economy is important — that’s never been more clear than now when the oil boom has gone bust and coronavirus has pulled the rug out from under so many small businesses. Social issues, education, policing, roads and utilities — those are all important. So we find ourselves debating those matters a lot during election campaigns and judging the performance of our politicians and public servants mostly in terms of how they deal with those matters. But isn’t conservation important too?
Political priorities are based on the conversations people have over the kitchen table, at the hockey arena, over coffee and while waiting for a fish to bite. And looking at our politics, it seems like we need more conversations about the things of enduring value that define Alberta as a place worth loving and living in. Birdsong in the mornings. Trout finning in cold, clear creeks. Fresh air blowing out of pine clad hills across healthy native rangelands. Pheasants flushing from rose tangles; ruffed grouse drumming in the aspens; the slow solemn arcs of a golden eagle hunting marmots over a pristine alpine slope. Parks and trails and secret places. Rivers that don’t flood too badly, because they drain from healthy land. Water that doesn’t run out by mid August. Lakes you can still swim in without getting itchy…
It seems like conservation of land, water, fish, wildlife and nature are, at best, afterthoughts to many of our elected representatives. At worst, they are seen as disposable or even as obstacles that get in the way of jobs, investment and progress. Ironic, then, that we have squandered so much of this province’s natural wealth for jobs and investment that fizzled. That wasn’t much of a deal.
So when we do have a conversation about conservation in this province, it’s often because surprised Albertans are reacting, at the eleventh hour (or too late) to a wrong-headed policy move by a government that got elected without any meaningful commitment to conserve the things we love about the place. Those are depressing and unproductive conversations — they are divisive for our communities and they often leave people feeling powerless and despairing.
We need to change that. The need has never been more clear than in the last few months, with one conservation crisis after another. We need conservation to be not just on the agenda but at the top of the agenda because there’s another word for it: sustainability. We can’t sustain our economy, our families and our communities if the environment is depleted and diminished. We’re already seeing that.
Every political party is capable of making bad decisions when it comes to conservation. And every political party is capable of making good ones. But they need to know that voters — a lot of voters — are demanding it, and they need our help in recognizing bad ideas before they get implemented. And in recognizing good ideas.
So that’s what this site is about. It’s to talk about the things we love — to celebrate them and to defend them — not just at voting time but in between elections. And to make that talk so well informed, so passionate and so loud that political parties can’t help but notice. That’s when conservation commitments will show up in election platforms — real conservation, not greenwash. That’s when candidates will actually debate conservation issues. And if we get it right, the candidates who get it — the ones who listen and commit to act — are the ones that will get elected. Whatever the colour of their campaign signs. Conservation will follow.
If we love Alberta — the real Alberta we live in; the place itself; all the living things and places that make us who we are and make each day a gift for those blessed with being able to call ourselves Albertans — if we love Alberta, we should be conservation voters. Because we get the governments we choose. Let’s get ourselves some better choices.