OHV conspiracies muddy the debate

The author rejects the argument that Alberta conservation groups pushing for off-highway vehicle restrictions are part of a secret conspiracy to ban everyone from the province’s eastern slopes.  |  File photo

Aldo Leopold, the dean of ecological thinking, observed that when his bird dog, Gus, could find no pheasants to point, it would point to other birds, like meadowlarks, with a whipped-up zeal for unsatisfactory substitutes.

Some vocal members of the Alberta Off Highway Vehicle Association (AOHVA) are acting like Gus. When they can’t mount a credible response to the science behind off-highway vehicle (OHV) restrictions, they turn to extreme and unfounded conspiracy theories about the conservation community.

It is classic displacement behaviour.

The latest in this absurd twisting of reality is the contention that Alberta’s conservation groups are green decoys, bent on radical, secretive social manipulation through deceptive land-use planning, which will lead to expulsion of all Albertans from the eastern slopes. Oh, and all this is directed and funded by some clandestine American source, so cloaked it cannot be revealed.

This is tinfoil-hat stuff, coupled with antennas tuned to something that doesn’t exist.

For those OHV users who have a hard time swallowing this stuff, and for most Albertans who don’t use OHVs, a quick scan of the facts might be in order.

Alberta’s conservation organizations are staffed by mild-mannered but passionate people, working in the public interest for clean water, fish and wildlife and healthy, beautiful landscapes. Not a single Dr. Strangelove bent on world domination in the bunch.

Many, like me, are unpaid volunteers. Paid staff subsist on salaries significantly less than comparable positions in industry and government, often in the midst of areas with high costs of living. It is laughable to suggest these are hotbeds of foreign influence and funding.

Donors, whether Canadian or not, realize conservation transcends borders. For many imperiled species, working on an ecosystem basis, regardless of administrative or political boundaries, is good science.

What limited outside funding is available is used to benefit conservation work in Alberta. Those funds are scrupulously documented with the Canada Revenue Agency and available for public review.

AOHVA’s whipped-up zeal to discredit the conservation community (and a legion of landowners, ranchers, hunters, anglers and hikers) is a concerted effort to de-legitimize the arguments for evidence-based decision making and for the greater public interest and values to be part of land-use planning and decisions.

Disinformation techniques work for special interest groups like AOHVA on the principle that the amount of energy needed to refute the lies is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce them.

“It is a proven fact that designed, engineered trail systems mitigate environmental concerns,” AOHVA says.

Yet, when asked for evidence, AOHVA points vaguely to an American group, the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council. Its U.S. allies provide no answers and a search of the relevant literature shows only what Alberta’s chief scientist has already concluded: OHVs are hard on the environment. But AOHVA stubbornly sticks to its statement, perhaps hoping repetition can change reality.

While attempting to portray the conservation community as some kind of green decoy for a dark conspiracy found only on the internet, AOHVA reveals itself as a muddy decoy group. Its much-vaunted four-point plan for environmentally responsible OHV use is meant to divert attention away from the immensity of OHV-related damage. It downplays the noise and displacement of other recreational users and represents the veiled purpose to intensify OHV use, as if there is no other value to public lands.

AOHVA’s attempt to muddy the waters with a non-existent conspiracy is classic fear-mongering. Most Albertans will see it as a work of fiction and not be fooled by this muddy decoy group.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife biologist and an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

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