Fairy tales spread about land access

If you’re an off-highway vehicle user, you may have heard that government insiders bought land at Castle Mountain just before new provincial parks were announced for the area. That scandalous tale went briefly viral on OHV social media sites.

Only thing is, it’s not true. I checked. It’s fake news: a lie.

Special interest groups have always propagandized, exaggerated events and invented destructive rumours to advance their causes. But in an era of digital social media, fake news has become weaponized.

Our only real defence is to shine the light of truth into every dark corner of public discourse. It matters that we do, because democracy must always stand on a foundation of fairness: an engaged citizenry committed to honest debate.

Consider the Alberta government’s efforts to restore environmental health and social equity to the forests and streams of the eastern slopes — our public lands.

Many baby boomers remember family camping trips, trout fishing and healthy outdoor explorations our families used to enjoy in those peaceful, green places. But laissez-faire mismanagement of our public land over recent decades coincided with the growth of OHV use by a well-heeled minority. OHVs are heavy, powerful and fast. Their lugged tires shred vegetation, erode soil and create drainage gullies.

Well-designed trails can reduce, but not eliminate, the damage. But we don’t have those trails.

Instead, off-roaders use seismic cutlines, old logging roads, cattle trails and any other linear feature they can find in the landscape.

A web of eroding, weed-infested, noisy trails now riddles our headwaters. Some OHV users try to behave responsibly, but damaged land and lax enforcement has also bred a culture of aggressive vandals. Most Albertans now look elsewhere for quiet family recreation — mostly to parks that can barely cope with the demand.

Organized off-highway vehicle groups argue that the solution is better-engineered trails and more enforcement of existing rules. They say there is room for all out there. The government seems finally to be giving them what they say they want, but has reaped a harvest of anger and fake news instead of thanks.

Two years ago, the government hired 23 new enforcement officers and gave them expanded powers. Subsequent land-use planning for the Livingstone and Porcupine Hills areas has focused on laying out a well-engineered motorized trail network in places that don’t conflict with wildlife, fish and other users. The new Castle parks restored a small part of the Eastern Slopes to the large majority of Albertan families who prefer non-motorized recreation. Reducing motorized use elsewhere offers the chance that quiet users may soon be able to enjoy the rest of their public lands again too.

In other words, the government appears to be making room for all users, increasing enforcement and putting properly engineered trails in place, just what OHV groups asked for.

But the fake news machine is in full throttle: besides nasty rumours, some off-roaders have posted ads and internet memes warning that all OHV use will soon be shut down.

Some assert that dark U.S. money is funding an elitist campaign to close public lands completely. Others say that the government’s science and analysis is fraudulent.

When truth won’t advance one’s cause, lies become the weapon of choice. Engaged and active citizenship is our only defence.

The government will soon seek public comment on draft land-use plans for our eastern slopes. Albertans would do well to take the time to form their own opinions. Only independent, critical thinking can protect our democracy, and our public lands, from self-interested minorities and their fake news.

Kevin Van Tighem is author of Heart Waters/Sources of the Bow River and Our Place/Changing the Nature of Alberta.

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Comments

  • Greg

    This is rich. the Yukon to Yellowstone “pot” calling the outdoor enthusiast’s “kettle” black.

  • Jan Campbell

    I can’t believe you would allow such trash in your newspaper! I grew up reading the western producer and enjoyed the western people section as well. Extremely disappointed you would allow an opinion piece into your newspaper. I always regarded you as a paper with integrity. Not anymore

    • Hi Jan,

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

      We publish opinion pieces in our paper every week – as far as I’m aware we have since the paper was founded in 1923.

      There are always two sides to every story – often more. We try to share a variety of opinions on any subject of interest to our readers.

      Our “Editorial Code of Ethics” states:

      “The Western Producer will provide a forum for all legitimate expressions of Western Canadian rural opinion on current agricultural issues, within the constraints of available space and Canadian law.”

      You can find our complete Editorial Code of Ethics here: https://www.producer.com/editorial-code-of-ethics/

      Integrity, in my humble opinion, is not something we can simply claim to have. It’s something we strive for, something bestowed upon us by our readers.

      Our integrity has been hard-earned over nearly 100 years of publication, at least in part because of our willingess to share competing/dissenting opinions on subjects that matter to our readers.

      We will continue to do so.

      Are you aware you can write an opinion piece for the WP as well? We accept “letters to the editor” and, on occasion, longer pieces such as the one above on subjects of current interest.

      You can send your thoughts to the WP newsroom via newsroom@producer.com

      Cheers,
      Paul – WP web editor

  • Blair Kellington

    This is more propaganda. Shame on you western producer for running this dribble. If you pay attention the move by the NDP and their pals with the Y2Y are going To lead to limited to no grazing these lands, no hunting, no ohv access no random camping on and on it will go then one day bang, the government is going to say hey foreign investor and Y2Y friend here is some prime land for you to build quality hotels and gas bars. These talks are under way don’t kid yourself they had questions about this in their little surveys🤪. Shame on you western producer for not screening who you print. And let’s see some current studies on the rivers you hippies quote all kinds of info from anywhere but Alberta this last grizzly study was a joke and you know it

  • Gord Belsey

    Once again, KVT spreads fake news using an article on “fake news” This is not his first, and it is not his last. Typically, he will present a “conspiracy theory” based on the comments of a few, and purport it to be an all-encompassing idea, such as the “government officials own land in the Castle”. Not everyone believes this. KVT wants the general public to believe that OHV enthusiasts are moronic, selfish and reckless….that’s the REAL fake news here. Also, KVT loves to ramble on about the “fake news” of trail closures in the Castle region. Also fake news from him….Castle Park WILL phase out OHV traffic over a 5 year period. It’s written in the Plan. Porcupine/Livingstone will continue to have trails, but they will be significantly reduced. The “plan” doesn’t seem to address the concept of creating NEW trails in an appropriate, manageable way. It only addresses trail closures. KVT, it’s NOT fake news when we talk about trail closings and bans. Castle Park WILL BAN OHV traffic in a phased appproach.
    Also FAKE NEWS is Kevin’s accusations that previous trail management was somehow improperly handled. Not at all true. The Castle region has had an amazing trails system for decades, mapped and managed by local volunteers, and funded in a large part by private corporate donations. Many bridges were installed using volunteer resource hours and corporate funding. Much more could have been done but without the proper funding, it’s impossible to build more bridges. The volunteer organizations were aware of this. The only thing lacking was adequate support, financially and through enforcement support, to provide more effective government involvement. Those bridges could have been built.
    I can go on and on. The TRUTH is Kevin Van Tighem is an Internet troll, a fake news author, and he is spreading lies. He does not deserve to be given a voice.

  • krusty1

    KVT is in collusion with the Alberta ndp ,Alberta parks , who by the way have been infiltrated by , foreign NGO employees, aligned with such foreign funded groups such as Y2Y , which by the way is funded through montana to the tune of 3 million usa dollars a year to shut down Albertan forests to albertans, if you would like anymore facts on Kevin y2y cpaws , or any of the other foreign ngo,s aligned with the united nations objectives to control people through land use , please contact me I will be happy to share volumes of source material that will readily point out the fact that all albertans freedoms are under attack, , it is the fact that people like kevin the ndp and the foreign funded eco corporations are sheep in wolves clothing, there is no fairy tale alberta , you and I are under attack.

  • Gord Belsey

    Hi Paul
    Could you elaborate on why my response to this article, which included clarification on some of KVT’s claims, was not allowed? I believe my comments were appropriate, factual and reasonable. As far as I know, I didnt break any riles. What would be the reason for not including my comment here?

    Thanks

    Gord

    • Gord,

      You post has been approved.

      On occasion I moderate posts on the weekend using my smartphone. Yesterday just wasn’t one of those days.

      Cheers,
      Paul – WP web editor

      • Gord Belsey

        Thanks very much! I just did a minor edit to correct some typos. Cheers!

  • Sandra Morigeau

    “Methinks thou dost protest too much” It is used in everyday speech to indicate doubt in someone’s sincerity.

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