By Kevin Turner
Responsible science starts, and hopefully ends, with the truth. As a layman who divides his time between his liberal arts and science-based friends, I thought I may well be able to provide a little insight into the question of who can be trusted in this saga unfolding in our backyard generally and Star Creek specifially.
To my way of thinking, the problems lie not within the realm of communication, but rather ethics. Unfortunately, there are times when a line of thinking can become so ensconced as to become “the truth” and the important questions are left on the side of the road in an effort to get to where we want to be. If one is not vigilant in attending to ethical considerations (an area scientists and government ought to attend without prompt), and the “truth of the day” is presented as unassailable fact, a road to hell is created that can be maniacally difficult to recognize – never mind take exit from.
I have sent many e-mails to the Government of Alberta asking for the truth about what is going on in Star Creek; I’ve yet to receive a reply. I do know they, and the University of Alberta, planned this experimental harvest long before the flood of 2013 and before they even made a list of the plants and animals present in the area.
The government now seems to be spending quite a bit of time, money and effort to convince us it’s not as bad as it seems. Well it is, and it gets worse every day as the truth comes out. The claims in the government’s ad recently run in the Pass Herald notes two-thirds of the area is off limits to logging; well that’s simply because trees don’t grow on rock and ice. They also infer the small fraction that is being cut, 1/7 of 1 percent doesn’t really matter. Funny, this is about the same ratio of the head of a twenty-two caliber bullet to the surface area of an adult human; if it hits you in the arse, you’ll likely be ok, but between the eyes . . . . At least they’ve now admitted pure strain westslope cutthroat trout (WSCT) exist within the study area; what else do they know and refuse to share?
I queried Lorne Babiuk, Vice-President Research, University of Alberta on the ethics of the Star Creek experiment in November before road construction began. He was provided with knowledge of the presence of WSCT in the study area, the resultant need for a Class “A” approach (100 meters untouched between the roads and the creeks), should any cutting be done and asked a series of questions regarding ethics and law. I was truly surprised by the response (salutations removed):
“The University is not doing any forest harvesting, only monitoring the effects of different logging practices that are being done by third parties. If the University was not monitoring the effects we would not have any information on those impacts, but the harvesting would still occur. We have the appropriate regulatory approvals for all of our University activities.”
Of course the University is not in the logging business and how could the approvals be done if they don’t even know what plants and animals live there? Silliness. This whole tricky business is still about trying to get more water out of these hills than they can safely provide and it still seems the government and university are willing to do and say what it takes to get what they want, when they want, how they want. What a sad waste of tax dollars and strong minds.
Fortunately, Canfor has seen the folly and ceased certain operations until their concerns are addressed. Not surprisingly their concerns, like mine and others, centre around issues of legislation and policy. Why have both the university and the government turned a blind eye to matters of law and ethics leaving members of the public and industry as the last filter in the process? I should add, the work Canfor has done to date is of the highest quality I’ve recorded in the area, leaving me to wonder why other logging companies seem to fall short of the same quality?
I recently recorded evidence again of the problems in Star Creek and spoke with Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff who are now looking into it. My observations suggest the Alberta Government has told Canfor to “keep going, we’ll worry about things on our end”. We simply deserve more from our government. If the crucible of science is fueled by half-truths, unspoken government agendas and personal gain, I feel all hope is lost. I, however, remain hopeful that discussion will continue, and through it, we can get to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Kevin Turner is a Crowsnest Pass-based Naturalist focussed on fisheries and cumulative impact issues.