Monday, 1 August 2016

North Saskatchewan River Trials

          Last week I heard about a heavy oil pipeline breech that occurred along the North Saskatchewan River in Western Saskatchewan. This spill is not that large in comparison to others but is estimated about 250,000 liters, equal to about two and a half rail cars or seven B-train truck loads. The main problem with this spill is that it is close to the water intakes of several cities and towns downstream. Water had to be shut off for the cities of North Battleford and Prince Albert. This is a major disruption to businesses and life-styles of the people in these cities and smaller towns. It may be weeks before these water systems get back to normal. 
North Saskatchewan River Near Oil Spill Location After 6 days

     I drove out there to see for myself what it looked like. I stopped at three different places along the river, within a few miles of the leak. This is a slow paced, meandering river, about 200 to 300 meters wide and dotted with islands and gravel and sand bars. It is silt laden and at this time the river level has dropped from the higher levels of a week ago due to heavy rain and warm weather melting snow pack in the mountains. I could not see any evidence of an oil spill. The oily sheen on the water shown on television reports is not apparent to me now. If I did not know better I would not have believed that a heavy oil spill had happened just upstream. There are still many people working on the river with boats, booms and equipment of all sizes and shapes trying hard to recover as much oil as possible.I could not see any oil on the beach or smell any in the air. Husky oil is taking this spill very seriously.
Oil Booms, Men and Equipment Working to Clean Up Oil Spill

     I don’t know the size of pipe that allowed the oil into the river or the pressure that the oil moves through it. I don’t know how far from the breech that a shut-off valve is located so whatever is in the pipe still has to drain through the break once the valve is shut off. You can imagine how much oil might be in a pipe that is 36” or so in diameter and several miles from a shut off valve. All of these stats will come out in the investigation into this incident.
Abraham Lake in Winter

      The North Saskatchewan River begins its prairie meandering from the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, drip by drop from the Rocky Mountain Icefields and snow pack. It is fed by numerous tributaries as it flows through the foothills and then into Abraham Lake backed by the Bighorn Dam. From this dam the river continues its eastward trek through Rocky Mountain House, past Devon then through Edmonton. It is contained within a major river valley as it continues eastward into Saskatchewan and through North Battleford then through Prince Albert before joining with the South Saskatchewan River, about 1400 kilometres from its source. The combined rivers eventually flow into Tobin Lake and onwards to empty into Lake Winnipeg which empties into Hudson Bay through the Nelson River system.

      The trials of this river system began over two hundred years ago with the fur trade, exploration and settlement by the British and Hudson Bay Company. The river systems that flow into Hudson Bay drain more than one third of Western Canada and were the main highways and exploration routes toward the riches of the new land. Fur was the hot commodity of the day especially beaver. Beaver were almost wiped out due to high demands of the European fashion trade. Beaver pelts as well as other furs such as wolf, lynx, and weasels were traded for beads, colourful cloth, steel knives and axes, as well as muskets and powder which quickly had the natives reliant upon these modern conveniences.  Missionaries followed the fur trappers to isolated regions in their attempts to convert and educate native people to Christianity. Alcohol was added to the trade goods over time which did no good at all for the traditional way of life for the native tribes.
Westhazel School 1912 to 1958
About 150 years ago the first settlers surged across the broad prairie landscape after escaping Europe in search of free land and resources. Farmers turned over the rich and diverse prairie in hopes of growing wheat. Spectacular forests were laid flat and turned into lumber and railroad ties. As the railroad expanded westward it carried floods of people searching for a new way of life far from the ravages of crowded England and Europe. There was little thought given to the changing landscape. Within a few years Bison herds were totally wiped out to make way for cattle and fenced farmland. Less than a hundred years ago oil was discovered at Turner Valley in Southern Alberta and then after the Second World War it was discovered at Leduc, on the breaks of the North Saskatchewan River in central Alberta. Since then there has been a constant and determined race to find and extract as much oil and gas from the prairie and forested landscape of Alberta, Northern B.C. and Saskatchewan as possible. Once the oil and gas has been found, it has to be transported by truck, rail or pipeline to be refined and then distributed to end users. In Canada it would be almost impossible to find anyone who does not use oil products. Heat for our homes, fuel for our cars directly or through the use of plastics, paints, preservatives, clothing and almost anything else you can name. Oil products are also one of our main exports and tax bases which fuel our vibrant economies and consumeristic lifestyles.
Rail versus Pipeline
     Forestry is another of the main industries which we depend upon for employment and taxes. Vast tracts of Boreal forest is harvested along the upper reaches of the North Saskatchewan River and its tributaries. There is an ever increasing demand from the forest from home builders and pulp and paper. Lumber, raw logs and pulp is exported around the world on the backs of trucks, rail and shipping. In order to supply these demands, roads are bulldozed into the wildlands and blocks of timber are cut down, dragged out then trucked to mills for manufacture. As more and more timber is harvested, companies expand into steeper and more rugged terrain. The more ground opened up, the more strain is put on the landscape, the creeks and rivers as well as the critters that live there. 
Foothills Cut blocks Planted to Singular Species Pine

Harvested trees are replaced with planted trees but much of the rich natural diversity of the original forest takes years to be restored. In some cases, newly planted cut blocks are sprayed with herbicides to reduce grassy competition.
Slash Pile Waste to be Burned

     Agriculture is another one of the main industries that feed our insatiable economy. Farms are getting larger as margins get smaller so there is tremendous incentive to produce as much as possible from every arable acre. Low areas are drained, bush land is cleared and any native prairie land is plowed under in the attempt to grow grain or feed livestock. Artificial fertilisers are spread in greater volumes and more herbicides are sprayed to kill any weeds that may compete with the growing crop. Pesticides and fungicides are sprayed as well to kill off any voracious predator of our canola, wheat, corn or peas.
Agriculture and Oil Mixed Land Use

     In agriculture we have exchanged a very diverse mix of plant life for a singular crop which is great for the farmer but not always the best for our landscape. Pesticides reduce the good bugs as well as the bad ones. Honey bees are one of the good bugs that are harmed by pesticide spray.
Sprayer Tracks into Wheat Field. No Weeds or Bugs Allowed

     Each of our main industries occurs on the drainage system of the North Saskatchewan River. Forestry occurs in the upper drainage region of the river. Many of the tributaries that drain into the main river contain large tracts of land that have been logged off. The loss of the mature forest causes rainfall to run off quicker, snow melt to happen faster and the land heats up more causing the small streams and creeks to warm up faster. Warm water holds less oxygen than colder water resulting in stress to bugs and fish living there. Extraction roads and creek crossings result in greater siltation of the small water courses with the faster runoff of rain and snow melt. More access to the land adds stress to wildlife trying to survive in the busier land. Caribou, for example, require old growth forest, are stressed by loss of suitable habitat to wander through while searching for unique food and stress competition from other ungulates and predators such as black bears, grizzly and wolves. Our government is now out in the forest shooting wolves from helicopters and setting poison baits in the hope of reducing predatory pressure upon dwindling caribou herds. They should be reducing resource development in caribou habitat and allowing forests to regrow before more land is opened to resource extractors.

    All-terrain vehicles are now exploring the back country where they could never get to before. With more access roads being built, ATVs can easily expand their range. They cause noisy disruption and stress to wildlife that are always on high alert to the dangers humans present. ATVs are also one of the major causes of landscape degradation due to rutting, mudding, stream bed disruption, erosion and access in winter time for wolves to caribou and sheep habitat on snowmobile trails.
ATV Rutting. These ruts are knee deep

     Oil and gas extraction occurring within the river drainage system require cut lines and roads to open access to miles of back country that was previously wilderness. Road and pipeline right-of-way’s reduce forest cover and increase traffic to sensitive wildland habitat. Erosion, access and stream bed destruction all add stress to the landscape including the river itself. Every year we hear about a pipeline that has spilled major quantities of raw oil into a muskeg, a river or onto the landscape somewhere. These spills are very difficult and expensive to clean up. There is no way to recover all the oil spilled into any of the watercourses. The spilled oil is extremely toxic to wildlife living in and around muskeg, lakes and rivers.

     I cannot imagine how they would clean up such a spill in the winter time. It would be impossible to clean up under the ice and snow covered stream. We are not sure about how differently the oil reacts to icy cold water in comparison to the warmer water in mid-summer. As the oil slick moves downstream, it will continue to affect each watercourse it flows through. Codette Lake, Tobin Lake are both reservoirs that are created by dams on this river near the town of Nipiwan. Both lakes are lined by resorts and are great fishing destinations. As this oil slick continues downstream it will continue to impact and add to the cumulative stresses of the countryside, the people and wildlife that live in the region.

     I have to ask myself how much more can the river take? What happens if a large spill happens upstream of Edmonton? This large city cannot shut off the water intake for very long before it becomes a major hardship to over one million inhabitants. Edmonton is threatened by possible spills from rail way or trucking accidents. It is threatened by pipeline breech or refinery accident. Every day, the river itself as well as the lakes it flows through are threatened and polluted by increased siltation and chemicals washed into it through storm drains. People who pour paints and chemicals or medicines and cooking grease into drains or who wash their cars on the driveway threaten the health of the river, one small drop at a time.

     Farmers add tremendous chemical loads to the river through runoff from fertilised and sprayed fields. Fertiliser loads in the river add to increased algae levels in lakes it flows through or into. As the land heats up, so does the river and lake water temperature which promotes algae and weed growth which uses up valuable oxygen required for fish. Chemical pollutants flowing into the river also add to the toxicity of the river water requiring more cleaning before human usage.

     The North Saskatchewan River contains about 10 species of fish including the rare Lake Sturgeon which some anglers are now catching with some regularity. They do have to be released but how much stress can they take? How much fish can we safely eat that are caught in the river?

     Let us consider the cost of human exploitation to the land itself. What value do we put on pristine wilderness and plentiful wildlife? How valuable is it to us to be able to show our grandchildren a clean landscape where we can see a grizzly bear or a caribou? How can we rate or compare the value of our life to the life of the other creatures of the land or the health of the land itself?
Wild Horses in Clear Cut. Can we not all live in harmony?
Are corporate profits and stock holders share values really more important to the future long-term health of the earth? I know that we have to make a living but do we need to extract all of earth’s resources immediately to appease our insatiable money greed? Can we not slow down and rebuild or restore the habitat that we are damaging before we move on to the next project? How many companies do we see use the land, remove the resource then claim bankruptcy leaving their environmental damages in their wake? It seems that they are playing a game and never had any intention of reclaiming their damages. There are now thousands of abandoned well sites and mines scattered across Western and Northern Canada that nobody will clean up until the government may do some. Is the North Saskatchewan River, or any other river, going to be able to handle the increased requirements on it to feed our growing population as we pave over more pristine forest and farmland? I fear for its future.
North Saskatchewan River Bridge at Ft. Saskatchewan
What is the value of clean water and land?

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Coot Baby

     What did I ever do to you?
     Why did you dress me in this costume? When my daughter looks back on her own styles of clothing and hair, she often asks us why we allowed her to wear these ghastly clothes.
     What is the purpose of this unique feathering for such a little tyke? With its big feet, big bill and very oddly colouring, it has very little resemblance to it's parents.  Is this some kind of a joke pulled on its parents to see if they would actually look after and nurture this baby? What did Dad say when presented to his offspring, freshly sprung from its egg?
     I have many questions when I look at this unique little duckling. There must be a plan.

American Coot Feeding Youngster

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Heritage Marsh

Following a hot tip, I thought I should wander around Heritage Marsh located in Eastern Sherwood Park.Rain threatened and sometimes drizzled but it was a very nice day to be out wandering around in Mother Nature's wonders. The marsh is a series of flood-water lakes that help to hold run-off water providing beautiful and varied waterfowl habitat. I did see a rare, for me, American Bittern, but by the time I saw and identified it, it was flying too far away for a photo.Also spotted was a Sora but could not get a photo through wind-blown cattails.
Brewers Blackbird

      I did manage a few good Red-winged Blackbirds as well as a Brewers Blackbird all nesting in the tangled cattails.
Female Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird
     A pleasant surprise were Cedar Waxwings that were nice enough to pose for me fairly close in decent light.
Cedar Waxwing

     The best sighting of the day was an American Coot family that I managed to get a few shots of through swaying reeds, willows and cattails. Talk about cute-ugly babies striving for attention with their wild and colorful hairdos.
Baby American Coot

American Coot Feeding Baby

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Magpie Babies

      I noticed a robin sized bird yesterday that I did not recognise. It was black and white and stayed hidden among the thick branches of young spruce trees. In the shadows and depths of the tree I noticed a couple more birds hopping around trying to stay hidden from my view. Then I heard the unmistakable squawking. It reminded me of a teenage boy's voice changing; not quite right but identifiable. When more of the birds chimed in it wasn't long before Mom and Dad Magpie appeared in the topmost branches squawking their protest at my intrusion. In a few more days the young magpies will be flying rather than hopping from limb to limb. Right now they do not have the flourishing tail feathers that their parents do. Their wing and breast feathers do not look to be quite developed either.
Magpie Baby

     I did also see a Merlin flying around too. One of the magpies would be a fair meal for that predator so I did not hang around too long and hoped that I had not pointed this meal out for him.

     The gosling are growing rapidly and there is a Red-necked Grebe setting on a floating nest near where a pair raised a brood last year.

     Several Mallards are also showing off clutches of downy ducklings. One set has just hatched and spends most of the time on the bank nestled among the grass until strong enough to swim and dabble. Another family is already tipping and dabbling, gathering wee morsels from submerged pond vegetation.
Mallard Hen with her Babies

Whenever we would ask my Dad, "What's this thing?" and he didn't know, his answer would always be, "A wigwam for a duck's ass." Here is what he was talking about:
Mallard Wigwam

Friday, 3 June 2016

Rebuttal to Fort McMurray Criticism

Captain Paul Watson expounds on the Fort McMurray conflagrations..
       The following text has been taken from a repost by one of my Facebook Friends, Ingmar Lee, a fellow who lives near Bella Bella on Canada’s west coast. I know he is a person very concerned about the environment at his beautiful west coastal region of the world.
     Captain Paul Watson needs no introduction as one of the founding members of Greenpeace. They have done and continue to raise some very valid environmental concerns around the world. They are very action based funded by huge money donated by concerned world citizens.
Please read the following posting that Paul Watson wrote on his Facebook page and was reposted by Ingmar. There are also a couple of comments following.
Captain Paul Watson expounds on the Fort McMordor conflagrations..
The Sodom and Gomorrah of the Great White North
by Captain Paul Watson - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
May 2016
Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scolded Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May for suggesting that the tragic fires in Alberta were connected to climate change.
It appears that the Prime Minister likes to speak about climate change in the abstract but does not want to address the reality of the actual consequences of climate change.
Prime Minister Trudeau suggested that Elizabeth May’s statements were “inappropriate.”
Well he sure as hell is going to view my position as very inappropriate but there are some things about Fort McMurray and Alberta that simply need to be said.
Fort McMurray is a town that was established by the fur trade and built upon the bloody corpses of millions of wild animals. The name comes from a Hudson’s Bay fur trader named William McMurray. The place has been a blight on the landscape in the boreal forest ever since the fur traders forced the native Cree people to pack up and move along.
Calgary, is Canada’s petro-capital, hosts the cruel annual Stampede and is the home of the blue eyed Arabs in their white cowboy hats.
Alberta, a Province where oil is so revered that Edmonton named their hockey team – the Oilers.
Fort McMurray is the home base of the workers and company offices of those who devastated the natural environment with their obscenely destructive tar sands development projects.
Fort McMurray is a city of 80,000 that has been known as the “beating heart” of the Canadian oil industry.
The wealthiest per capita city in Canada with an average household income of $181,000 Canadians dollars.
A town with a birthrate above the national average.
A town with the largest number per capita of imported luxury cars.
A town of climate change deniers who have long held environmentalists in contempt and who laughed at the warnings that the planet is heating up and the ever-growing signs that consequences were fast appearing on the horizon.
Fort McMurray and Calgary, the two communities most responsible for the worst destruction of eco-systems in Canada – the scorched earth economic policies that ripped open the bowels of the land, destroyed rivers, lakes, forests and wetlands and caused the deaths of millions of animals.
Fort McMurray, a town that contributed so much to creating and spewing great volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and as fate has unveiled, the very town that is suffering the fire storm consequences of the seeds that it has sown.
In 2013 Calgary was hit with its worst flooding disasters in memory.
Yet the Prime Minister says there is no connection between these disasters and climate change.
Fort McMurray is now experiencing the highest temperatures and the lowest precipitation in its entire history. Temperatures this week were 31 degrees F. higher than average for the month of May.
To say there is no relationship to climate change is a delusional denial. Of course there is a connection and that connection is blazing forth dramatically in Fort McMurray where the entire population has been evacuated and over 1200 homes have been razed to the ground.
Of course we should feel compassion for the losses of the people who live there but it is insane to not discuss why this is happening and why it will continue to happen.
When humanity spits into the face of Mother Nature we should not be surprised to see the consequences of our collective arrogance and ecological ignorance spat back at us.
This horrendous fire, just like the flood that hit Calgary and the super storms, floods and tornadoes ravaging through communities around the globe are the consequences of the hundreds of millions of tons of carbon that we annually inject into the atmosphere and the irreparable damage we are doing to the natural mechanisms that absorb carbon, like the forests, wetlands and the ocean.
This fire is nature’s punishment for the sins of human avarice. Not in a theological sense, there is no divine plan here, just the natural chemical reaction caused by humanity’s activities.
In nature there is always an equal reaction to an action. The tar sands development was a huge action and the reaction is and will be equally huge as a consequence.
The disaster in Fort McMurray is man-made and the people suffering the most are some of the very people who participated in creating the circumstances that they are now experiencing.
Prime Minister Trudeau says that now is not the time to discuss this, but when is it time to discuss cause and effect. They did not want to discuss it in the past. They don’t want to discuss it now and they have no intention of discussing this in the future.
They can dismiss it as an act of God, a natural disaster or whatever they may choose to call it, but the writing is on the wall. Big oil, government, both Federal and Provincial, big banks, and jobs are the underlying cause of this disaster and that is a truth now written in the sky with broad brushstrokes of flame and smoke.
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Robert Roy
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Robert Roy Sunny Ways vs. "Fire in the Sky". The first reaction for some on the less popular side of oil industry was to feel like Karma was truly coming to town in Tar Sands Land. Not a warm fuzzy feeling, maybe much sooner and more violent than was expected. Th...See More
Barbara Joyce Hutton
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Barbara Joyce Hutton Very well said. My sentiments exactly. Mother Nature is not finished with this yet. It has now moved into BC. So guess we will be next to experience Mother Natures Rath. Rightfully so!

     Very Interesting is all I can say. There is some truth in what the captain writes. Since the fur trade arrived in the New World, we have not been kind to the land, the wildlife or the native people.
     By “We” I mean all of us, not just Ft. McMurray and the residents who were forced to flee due to the large forest fire that recently ravaged that region of North Eastern Alberta. As far as we know the fire started naturally but grew very quickly due to the unusually warm and dry winter and early spring. For this we can place some blame upon a very strong El Nino winter; effected because of a warmer Pacific Ocean than normal.
     In 2013, southern Alberta suffered from spectacular floods that ravaged Calgary, High River and many other communities along the Bow and Elbow river systems. This high water can be attributed in part to massive clear cut logging in the foothills region of the Eastern Slopes region where these rivers begin. Once again, people were forced to flee their homes toward higher ground.

     In 2011, another forest fire ravaged much of the central Alberta Town of Slave Lake. Once again the residents fled the fire to safety. All three of these incidents cost or will cost insurance companies billions of dollars and untold hardship and stress upon the people who lived through them.

     What caused these disasters? Yes, all of us built cities and towns in the boreal forest. Boreal forests depend upon fires to rejuvenate so it stands to reason that every square foot of the forest will burn someday. Will it burn in such spectacular fashion or is it only spectacular if it burns parts of cities and towns? There was a forest fire burning in Northeast B.C. at the same time as the Ft. Mac fire but that fire very quickly became a mute story when the wind directed it away from nearby communities and a rainstorm happened along to assist in putting it out. We humans have become very good at putting out forest fires over the past few decades. This ability is one of the reasons that millions of acres of pine forest in B.C. has been infested and killed off by the pine beetle. Warmer winters has also had somewhat to do about the naturally occurring pine beetle but I wonder about that somewhat. Central B.C. is naturally a much warmer place than most of the rest of western Canada. I don’t know how often -40 degrees weather ever happened in October and November that would have frozen the beetle to death before it could manufacture anti-freeze or before it had the chance to bore deep enough into a pine tree to protect it. That rarely happens now and with our ability to put out fires, the beetle has proliferated and killed pine forests in B.C., Northwest USA, Alberta and into Saskatchewan.
     The largest Canadian forest fire ever happened in 1950 and covered more than 1.5 million hectares, three times as large as the Ft. Mac fire. Global warming had not yet been discovered but that summer was also very warm and dry with powerful winds and plenty of land to cover. There were no tar sands plants polluting the air in 1950 either.
     Remember the devastating Kelowna fire and the fire that started east of Kamloops that ravaged Barrier about ten, maybe fifteen years ago? That one started by a cigarette tossed into tinder dry grassland and forest.
     Many cities or towns all of us built in B.C., Alberta or anyplace in this country could be burned down by wildfire due to close proximity to forest or grasslands. The luck of the draw or direction of the wind puts many places at risk. California and Australia also see homes lost every year due to wild fires.
     The point I am trying to make is that it is not solely to do with what any place does to establish itself that puts it at a higher risk of destruction. Anyone who drives a vehicle, a boat, flies on an airplane or heats his home is using fossil fuels and that is fact. If you have ever packed your groceries into plastic bags or used plastic in any way, you are supporting the oil industry. All of us in North America have numerous items in our homes manufactured with an oil heritage. That oil comes from the ground at the risk of earthly damage and destruction. We all want these fuels for the least possible price as well. We are all responsible for our share in this fuel manufacturing process. We can all see the damage that it is causing our earth but we continue to weigh the pros and cons and risk the health of earth as a whole to provide ourselves with our comfortable lives. Ft. McMurray is not alone in environmental destruction but it is a very visible poster child. Ft. Mac industry does add carbon and other harmful chemicals to the air and water, no doubt about it. We are all concerned about settling ponds at the oil sands plants, just as we are concerned about settling ponds at any mines everywhere. We have seen what happens when ponds burst into pristine rivers as happened at Mount Polley, near Likely, B.C. Obed coal mine and Pinchi Lake mines also burst tailing's ponds into pristine rivers and lakes with slurry's of cyanide, heavy metals and coal waste. It seems to be an acceptable cost of doing business that corporations try to avoid but our environmental protection agencies dole out few real consequences.
     Mining also causes very visible scars on pristine landscapes. East of Hinton, Alberta, coal miners have moved entire mountains, one truck load at a time. It is unbelievable to see how 7000 foot mountains can just disappear in a couple of years. They do smooth out the rubble and plant some grass when they have depleted the coal but it is not quite the same. The diversity of life has disappeared for centuries. There are mines scattered throughout Canada that leave spectacular destruction in their wake, covered by a bit of grass when completed if lucky.
     We can all see massive clear cuts of forest that have been hacked out of beautiful, pristine wilderness from coastal B.C. through the rest of Canada. Old growth forest logging still happens every day even though we all know that these spectacular forest habitats will never likely recover. 1000 year old trees still get chopped down to make 2x4s and pulp so we can build another house or wipe our butt with silky smooth wipes. We can all see the damage that cutting mountain sides of forest cause to streams and rivers. Floods of debris and silt destroy valuable spawning habitat for salmon and trout as well as numerous other species that depend on clean water. Treeless mountainsides reflect the sun’s rays causing warmer micro-climates and water temperatures. Warmer water causes ice to melt quicker and heat up the ocean. We risk this environmental damage against our growing population’s requirements for comfortable houses and conveniences. Do we hear a hue and cry from the west coast environmentalists about this damage? Sometimes, when it occurs in front of their own village.
     Fishermen should not be left out either. Deep sea fishermen are dragging the sea bed with huge nets causing undetermined but unseen destruction to the ocean floor. Everything gets mowed over and torn up far from view under water in the hopes of catching the few fish that are left out there. Any species of critter scooped up but not wanted is tossed back into the sea, most often dead or badly wounded. Fishermen have so depleted the ocean of life that it is not likely to live much beyond a few more years. Krill, the basis of life in the ocean is harvested by shiploads to feed dogs, cows, pigs, chickens and to make fertiliser. Herring are harvested at their most vulnerable time of spawning in the spring of the year which depletes food source for larger species in the ocean. This makes less food available for salmon, birds and whales. Live sharks have their fins cut off and then are pushed back into the sea to drown so somebody can get his virility charged soup.
     To replace dwindling salmon stocks, B.C. has allowed scores of fish farms to be tied up in secluded bays along the coastlines of Vancouver Island and throughout inlets up and down the coast. These fish feedlots raise foreign Atlantic salmon by the millions. They are accused of polluting the sea bed beneath each pen, spreading disease and parasites to local migrating salmon which may cause depletion of natural wild salmon stocks. Alexandra and her followers is the lone voice of concern for wild salmon and we know nothing about that here in Alberta or anywhere away from the coast. Are these examples any worse Sodom and Gomorrah’s than Ft. McMurray?
     The oil sands plants, mines, forestry and fish farms all provide valuable industries for our growing countries. They provide invaluable jobs to isolated communities. They all make profit for shareholders. An exploding world human population is driving all of these industries. None of us agree with the methodology to the madness we are perpetuating on our earth. How do we stop it? I think it is impossible to halt and roll back to the 1800s or whichever era you would like to live in.

     The one point I want to make to tie everything together follows. Don’t forget the real people who actually live and work in the towns and cities responsible for resource extraction. Whether you live in Ft. McMurray or Likely, or Prince George or Hinton or any of the small logging or fishing communities the men and women are working hard to provide for their families. These people crawl out of bed and punch the time clock everyday to go to work making the attempt to earn an honest living trying to give their families a better chance at life than they had. They are just ordinary people on the treadmill of life going to work, eating, sleeping and then back to work. With a bit of luck they come home safely everyday to families with enough pay to feed the insatiable taxman, mortgage or rent, the grocery store, the car payment, the insurance companies, the dentist and doctor. Maybe they have enough left over for a bit of fun to make all their time sacrifices worthwhile. Most of these workers are honest and caring and giving. These are the people who will run into a burning building to save your cat or child, they will extract you from a car wreck and comfort you until the authorities show up. When Ft. Mac was burning we watched in awe at what ordinary people were doing to help out complete strangers with no more pay than a firm handshake and thank you. We heard of firefighters battling flames while their own house next door was on fire. One fellow did not even take the time out to save his own dog; he was too busy helping a neighbour.
     As much as we may not agree with what they do, even the corporations opened up camps to provide shelter and food for evacuees. Men working in some of the camps gave up their own rooms so evacuated families could stay together.
     I hate it when people run down these brave and caring people during crisis situations. I recall that when the Queen of the North crashed into Gill Island in the middle of a cold and stormy night that when the Mayday- Mayday- Mayday call went out, brave people crawled out of their warm beds and into any boat that would float. They did not want to I’m sure, but they risked all to do whatever they could to save strangers in time of urgent need. Even though some of those rescuers are environmental destructors such as fishermen, loggers or fish farmers, they were every bit as eager to do what they could to help, and I wouldn’t want anyone else out there but them. They know what is required to do without a big command structure. Just bend your back and get it done. They opened their modest homes and community hall to use as makeshift rescue centers. There was hot coffee and food and warm, dry clothing for the rescued passengers.
      When the big wave comes crashing into Vancouver in the near future after the coming earthquake, I for one will not wish this on that “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Bad things are happening to people who now live there as well but I will try to add any support that I can for them in their time of need.
     To all the Captain Watson's of the world and his followers, stop calling the kettle black while you are standing in your own black frying pan. Come up with a genuine solution to some of the world problems and do what you can to minimise your own impact upon this beautiful and fragile earth. Do not bully hardworking people of our country in their time of desperate need. The best way for you to lose any respect that you may have gained through some of your causes, is to kick your peers when they are down.

Robert Scriba, a former logger, trucker, hunter and fisherman learning to be a friendly occupant of our earth.

June, 2016

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Dry Island Buffalo Jump

I will have to come back to this historical site when it has dried up. Today, we are in a short lull between rainstorms bordering on snow. I shouldn't complain because we do need this valuable moisture. We have driven past the sign post on Highway 21 southeast of Red Deer many times without turning in to investigate. Today, it is our destination on the way to my brother's place.
Large Broods of Goslings

     As always, the journey is as enjoyable as our destination. As usual, we turn on old time country music and drive along observing whatever we see. The farmer's crops are already perking up with this first rain after planting. The grass seems greener and the trees fresher. A pleasant, fresh cleanliness wafts over the landscape as we pause to watch several families of Canada Geese munching away on bugs and freshly sprouted wheat. These are very large families that are about a month ahead of a normal year. Alberta has enjoyed a very mild winter and very early spring so many bird crops are taking advantage of their time.

American Avocet
     A little further down the road we pause to look at some American Avocets wading and probing the shallows of a small pot-hole lake. They are one of the easiest shorebirds for me to identify because of their colorful, rustic plumage and long blue legs and curved bill.
Male Ruddy Duck

     In a small pond across the highway are several Ruddy Ducks, Blue-winged Teal and Greater Scaup. Out in the middle, on a pair of islands, are scores of Herring Gulls, several nesting. We watch as One of them flies into the field next to us and gathers a beak full of dried stubble and mud with which to build a nest.
Blue-winged Teal

       Dry Island Buffalo Jump is a provincial park that commemorates and remembers the history of the days that the local natives used the cliffs above the Red Deer River as a buffalo killing area. Herds of bison were stampeded over the cliffs to their death providing valuable food, shelter and clothing for the coming season. The cliffs here are higher than many other buffalo jumps in the west. Embedded into the cliffs is also the history of the landscape as far back as the dinosaurs and evidence of the big asteroid that may have created enough dust and debris to kill the dinosaurs off, some sixty million years ago. Numerous fossils of many kinds have also been found in this ancient sea bed.
Can you imagine the sounds, the rumble, the cries and grunts as bison rush to their death off this cliff? Can you envision the thrill of the hunt and the people's joy with the bounty? Hear the thankful drums.

     Dry island itself is actually, just that, a dry island. It is a plateau that was surrounded and isolated from the rest of the surrounding prairie that has never been grazed by domestic animals or cultivated.It contains a very pure example of the grasslands that existed here before the European farmers plowed any accessible prairie lands under.
Dry Island in the Distance.

Mountain Bluebird Roost as he watches over his nearby nest
Scarlett Mallow

      We finally made it to brother Jim's for supper and called it a day.In the morning we awoke to a typical spring snow storm with huge flakes that weigh down fresh spring foliage and branches. His new little puppy, Grizz, wandered around curious about the flakes.

As we left a little later I noticed a small herd of cows taking shelter from the north-west wind-driven snow underneath an old windbreak. In some areas, there was a few inches of snow.
Cows Seeking Shelter During Spring Snowstorm
     Even if the weather is not ideal, it is possible to have a great time and see some amazing things. Pause for a look once in a while, enjoy the company you are with and do not take risks with bad roads in bad weather. Enjoy the little things,the details that we don't always pause long enough to look at.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Park Prisoners Untold Story

Park Prisoners. The Untold Story of Western Canada’s National Parks, 1915 to 1946

Bill Waiser, ISBN-13:978-1-895618-74-7

     Book Review 

     Some of our National Parks have a very chequered past that most of us are unaware of. As we drive through the front gates inviting the world in to enjoy Banff National Park today there is little evidence of the misery that men lived to build that portal.
     Bill Waiser has written a very informative book describing how many of the facilities, buildings, roads and bridges were constructed during the war years and through the great depression. The projects were designed by Canada’s federal government, Provincial governments and National Parks Bureau. Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, Banff and Jasper Parks in Alberta as well as Yoho and Revelstoke National Parks in B.C. were all beneficiaries of very cheap hand labor. Thousands of men were gathered up like prisoners and housed in makeshift camps, forced to work like many had never worked before. Some were elderly, some were very young and many torn from their families for the first time. They suffered from loneliness, home-sickness, and helplessness and from the weather. The endured crowded, often dirty camps and the drudgery of difficult work far from creature comforts.
Memorial to the Internees That Helped Build Facilities in Our National Parks

     When Canada went to war against Germany in 1914, there were more than half a million single men from Eastern Europe who had immigrated to Canada. To protect our nation from possible subversives among us, they were forced to report to RCMP stations declaring where they lived and what they were doing monthly. If they failed to report they were rounded up and placed in labor camps. The Canadian public were not content to simply have these men interred but they should also be put to work to earn their keep. Internment camps were set up in isolated places in the country so it would not be easy for the prisoners to escape and cause mayhem. Don’t forget, these men were guilty by being of Eastern European descent only and came from Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Austria, Germany considered to be “pauper immigrants, and ignorant foreigners”. Many had small farms or worked in factories throughout the country. Anyone not of British descent was suspicious and the general populous fear of foreigners ran rampant. These aliens were put to work building roads using wheel barrows, picks, shovels and axes only, to keep costs down and make the jobs last. None of these men were guilty of any sins. As we drive the road between Banff and Jasper, think of the gangs of men toiling with their hand tools to make that terrain passable by car. Castle Mountain was the site of the first internment camp in Canada housing enemy aliens. None of these people thought that Canada would round up her own people for no reason and effectively imprison them.
     Imagine building the road through the Kicking Horse Pass through Field and Golden, then on to Revelstoke by hand. Think of the bridges that had to be built across some of those raging rivers. Generally the men were fed decently but housing was crowded, cold, wet and dirty. Some barracks or bunkhouses were tents or built of logs. Outhouses, wash basins and rivers were the sanitary standards of the day. I can’t imagine living in those crowded conditions. The rate of pay was .25 per day for six days per week and there were rules about how they could spend that.
     After the war was over the men collected their confiscated pay and allowed to go back to their homes if they had not caused any problems. Troublemakers were deported.
     In 1930 many internment style work camps were reopened to house relief workers and transients. These workers were generally any man who did not have a job during the depression. Thousands of men wandered the country, riding the rails searching for food and jobs of any kind. These men put considerable strain on this country’s and cities resources to feed and house them. Many of them were rounded up and shipped off to these forced labor camps to continue the work of building facilities and roads in our parks. Once again, little machinery was used as it was expensive to operate and took too many men’s jobs. Some of the men who worked in these camps looked back on their experiences as very beneficial to them. They had a place to live, good food to eat and made a little bit of cash. Living conditions were very rustic to say the least. Elk Island National Park had workers clearing brush for bison pastures, Prince Albert National Park used transients for building many buildings such as the museum at Waskesiu and repaired water and sewer lines. Riding Mountain, Waterton, Miette Hot Springs, and Banff all had buildings and roads improved or built by the relief workers and transients.
     During the Second World War, “Conchies,” or Conscientious Objectors who did not believe in fighting were put to work for the betterment of the country. Many Mennonites, Doukhobor’s, Hutterites and Jehovah’s Witnesses were housed in small camps throughout most National Parks in Western Canada doing works that benefited the community as a whole. Trail cutting, road and building improvements, firewood cutting and any job deemed necessary were done. Most of these Conchies were very hard workers but also very homesick and worried about their families at home. Many had never been away from their families before. They earned around .50 per day and some of their wages were sent home to their families. These men worked very hard and accomplished much using their hands and ingenuity developed and practised on their own farms.
Meadows Below Castle Mountain in Banff Where Work Camps Held Japanese Detainees

      After the Japanese invasion of Pearle Harbour, all Japanese male citizens living near Canada’s west coast were rounded up and torn from their families and businesses and sent to remote camps far inland so they could not be of assistance to the pending Japanese invasion thought to be imminent. They lost everything with no compensation leaving them and their families destitute, frightened and under suspicion and prejudice. Jasper, Blue River, Tete Jaune Cache were areas where Japanese camps were set up to supply labor clearing right-of-way and building the road through the Yellowhead Pass. Their rate of pay was .25 per hour but they had to pay for their camp and food as well as send money home to families. The internees worked steadily but did not exert themselves and devised a strategy of passive resistance to protest being separated from their families. This caused much strife between guards, parks and government supervisors who expected much more production from each camp. There is a small plaque commemorating the Japanese along the side of highway 1a between Banff and Lake Louise.
     Also during World War 2 something had to be done with German Prisoners-of-war being held in POW camps at Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. Most of these captives had been captured in North Africa and shipped to Canada to prevent them from rejoining the German war effort. One of these captives was my Dad’s cousin Gottfried Scriba. He did not get sent to some of our labor camps but spent his time at Medicine Hat before being sent to my Grand Father’s farm at Heart Valley, Alberta. Here, he was under the direct supervision of Grandpa. My grandparents, German immigrants since 1927, also had to report to the RCMP at Spirit River regularly, which was no small feat in those years. It required a trip by team and wagon of more than 30 miles to accomplish. There were some German immigrants from our area who were rounded up and kept in camps because of some suspicious activities. Gottfried enjoyed his time at the farm very much and talked about it in later years with fondness and thankfulness. After the war was over, Grandpa received a letter from the Canadian Government ordering him to “produce one live prisoner-of-war, Gottfried Scriba, to the train station on such and such a date.” Gottfried was shipped back to Germany to be repatriated.
     Other German prisoners were not so lucky. Many of them were sent to detention camps to work off their keep doing all sorts of jobs. These camps were placed in isolated regions making it very difficult to escape from and cause turmoil in our country. The National Parks Bureau received prisoners which were sent to various regions from Western Ontario though Alberta. They cut fuel wood, pulp wood and built camp housing then tore it down when finished. Generally, the men were paid .50 per day, were fed and housed well and had some freedom. These camps were not like POW camps we hear of in Japan or Germany. Many of the POWs made life-long friends with fellow prisoners and guards.
Spectacular Scenery Visits Made Possible by Hard Work of Many Detained Workers

     We have had, since these times, apologies made by government to the Japanese people for their treatment. All of the people above, except for the German POWs had done nothing wrong. They were victims of the hard times that Canada was going through as well as deep seated fears about possible subversives living among us. It continues today with the influx of Muslim immigrants coming from very war-like countries. Can we learn from the past or will we continue to be very suspicious of people who look a certain way or speak a different language? Are our policies of freedom-of-speech, freedom-of-religion, freedom-to-do-whatever get us in trouble down the road? I look back at the past one hundred years and wonder at the changes in government policy to immigrants. Europeans came and learned the rules-of-law, the language of the country and adapted to the land through very difficult times. They assimilated into the landscape and local culture of their communities while adding their own colours in harmony to build very rich and strong co-operative efforts to make a strong and united land. They built the roads, communities and added the convenience we do not think about today. Running water, electricity, telephones all came to be everyday conveniences which were unheard of in my parents and grandparents lifetime. Will our new refugees and immigrants add to the land or will they subvert the building process? All I can say is that we will be watchful and try to be aware of what is happening within our own communities.
     I talked to one elderly lady within the past year who said she would never go back to Banff. She remembers it being a horrific trip on some of the worst roads. She recalls when there were no services to be had and it just wasn’t worth the trouble. I would say that it was during the late 1940s or early 1950s when she was last there. She is unaware of the new difficulties Banff is having with crowded streets thronging with foreign tourists.
     As we drive through our National Parks of Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba, remember the hard work, human suffering and difficulties that some people endured to make them what we so treasure now. Take a look at the roads over the passes and up to Columbia Icefields and to Golden and pause for a moment using your imagination to see hundreds of men wielding a pick axe, shovel and wheel barrow building these roadways.

I’d like to thank Bill Waiser for bringing this story to light. Our history provides many lessons that can be learned from and that we need to never to forget.