Rich environmentalists out to lunch on saving the caribou

To the Editor:

In the last two editions of the Lakeside Leader, you have stories relating to how the Alberta Government’s current caribou range policy is interfering with our resource industry doing its work. The first article had these concerns expressed by the reeve of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River.

In the late nineties I was the business manager for a First Nation oilfield company north of Slave Lake. One winter we were given a contract by a major oil company, Baytex Energy, to complete a clean-up of 60 old lease sites north of Red Earth. Work started after Christmas, as it took two months for Baytex to get approval from Forestry in Peace River.

Work proceeded and all seemed fine, when without warning, Baytex told us we must shut down the work without completion, two months early.

We were concerned. The loss of income to our aboriginal business and loss of employment to our crew was a big financial hit to our community. Upon looking into it, we found that the pressure behind our work shutdown was that being applied to Baytex Energy by the Sierra Club of California.

The Sierra Club is a group of wealthy Americans from the western States who are trying to shut down the oil and gas industry in Alberta. We were advised that a member of the government in Peace River was advising the Sierra Club of everything about our project.

Appeals to the civil servants were a waste of time. The Sierra Club had terrorized the oil and gas industry in Calgary so badly that Baytex told me we were on our own in this struggle and we had to fight for the oil company as well. So we set out to do just that.

Our First Nation leaders set up a meeting at the legislature in Edmonton with Hon. Mike Cardinal, Minister of Forestry. This effort was assisted by our MLA Pearl Calahasen. We brought two elders who were lifelong trappers in the area. The allegations by the Sierra Club against our work were as follows:

The roads we maintained opened up the bush so that it was easy for wolves to track down and kill caribou.

The leases we maintained created a bad noise when the pumpjacks operated, which scared away the caribou.

This activity was preventing the caribou from breeding and allowed Natives and wolves to destroy them.

At the meeting we informed Minister Cardinal of the economic loss to our community if the work we did was shut down early. He was quite sympathetic, but it was soon obvious that the ‘eco-radicals’ could not care less about our concerns.

At this point our elders spoke to Minister Cardinal in Cree. They informed him that their people did not hunt caribou as their diet gave the meat no real food value. The roads our company opened allowed caribou to escape from wolves, not be caught by them.

Pumpjacks on lease sites operating do not upset caribou. To prove their point, our trappers gave Minister Cardinal pictures they had taken on the trapline of caribou resting on lease sites by working pumpjacks. Wolves will not bother caribou there, as the noise of a pumpjack keeps them away. Pictures of caribou on the road were delivered as well.

Our defense of our oilfield work was a mild shock to the bureaucrats. They did not expect it. As a result, Minister Cardinal ordered that we be given an extension of 30 days. It was not ideal but we were able to complete most of the work. No friends were gained with the eco-radicals.

As one of our First Nations councillors said, people like the Sierra Club seem to prefer that our Native people remain unemployed, rather than have a good job in our resource industry. If rich Americans can shut down our oil industry, then they might be happier if we all sat by the roadside selling pencils for a nickel.

Brian Pitcairn
Slave Lake

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