February 23rd, 2018

Fake news and public land


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 7, 2018.

Kevin Van Tighem

If you’re an off-highway vehicle (OHV) user, you may have heard that government insiders bought land at Castle Mountain just before new provincial parks were announced for the area. That shocking 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.

The only real defence against it 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 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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8 Responses to “Fake news and public land”

  1. already extinct says:

    I have not been able to take Mr. Van Tighem seriously since under his watch as superintendent of Banff National Park he was present at the destruction of one of the Parks most precious historic public monuments (A.O. Wheelers – Clairemont) which he and those of the “special interest group” autocratic “Parks Canada” were respoinsible for protecting as a recognized historic monument..

    Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, calling out “fake news”, “lies”, “special interest groups”, those who you claim have” propagandized”,, “exaggerated events” and “invented destructive rumours” to advance their causes.

    There was a lot of relevancy lost with me and many others when Mr. Van Tighem as super sat back and watched heavy machinery rip & claw & remove every scrap of Mr. & Mrs Wheelers historic home off Mountain Avenue, after, allowing it to rot to ruin.

    THEN, to add insult to injury PC sold to the public “fake news” saying one of the reasons Clairmont had to go after near a century on the side of the mountain was that that lovely home with gold fish in the ponds and so on, was impeding wildlife movement – the home was in an “animal corridor”.. What total bunk – talk about fabricating news!!!!

    That tiny little property was no more impeding animal traffic than Banff Springs Hotel and Golf course ,covering sheer arces at the head of Goat Creek Trail – ohhhh, but that didn’t matter. The destruction proceeded!

    Yes , lets talk about fake news, exaggerations, and special interest groups who for their purposes invent destructive rumours.

    Clairemont is gone for good – rotting in a landfill – but not the memories of how it all came about.

  2. Resolute says:

    This story by Mr Tighem is another example of the work expended by those trying to take away others’ rights, property and enjoyment thereof. If what he so eloquently wrote bore any element of common sense it would not require his and minister Phillips’ campaigns to justify closing the sw of Alberta to the majority of Albertan recreational users. It is not as though this is a small island of exclusion either – these people are attempting to close off the entire foothills and Rockies from Yellowstone Park to the Yukon!

  3. Pete says:

    Resolute, there is certainly no attempt to “[close] the se of Alberta to the majority of Albertan recreational users”. (I suspect you meant the southwest.) What the government IS doing is addressing the decades-long free-for-all that has wreaked havoc on our public lands and driven many former recreational users out. Non-motorized activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, mountaineering, X-country skiing, snowshoeing, paddling, etc will all continue and, in fact, be ENHANCED by the reduction in motorized mayhem.

    To be clear, only about 3% of Albertans own OHVs. The government’s long-overdue efforts to rein in the motorized excess will, in fact, RETURN our public lands to “the majority of Albertan recreational users.”

  4. Resolute says:

    Thanks for the catch Pete, I did mean sw and have fixed that. I was unaware of the volume of atv’s out there as everyone but us seems to have one when we go camping in the wilds. Still you have to admit if the 149,000 offroad vehicles registered in 2015 are approx the same now that is quite a number to make redundant. We typically bike and hike on paths not used by atv riders but do not want them excluded as they seem the majority of users out there and do it generally as a fun family activity. The Yellowstone to Yukon organization website details some 21% of what looks to be a several hundred km wide swath of that land has been protected as parkland now, vs only 11% in 1993. A huge increase of land that now has major restrictions on who and how it may be enjoyed. Do many Albertans know that scope or the goals of that one organization of the many enviro groups trying to control and limit access to primarily “public” lands?

  5. phlushie says:

    Let us look back in time. When the OHV were first brought in they were used in industry and work vehicles, but were at an attractive price that people started using them as recreational vehicles. I am sure glad that farm tractors are priced the way they are, because if they were cheaper they would make a really destructive OHV. Able to knock down trees and blaze trails everywhere and totally tear up the land. I grew up in the sw area of Alberta and recall many fishing expeditions into the Castle region. Access at that time took almost a day to remove dead fall from the trail, and once camp was set up you would not see another human for 3 or 4 days. Absolute peaceful silence. Now access is so free that there are 30 foot mobile homes where we used to camp in quit. It is a good move to restrict the use and allow for minimum disturbance of the area.

  6. dedcow says:

    As a long time resident of SW Alberta, I have seen the increase in population to the point of saturation. Years ago, when we camped in the Castle in tents, it was pristine save for the cut lines from previous seismic operations. This we used to hike on foot, and the “footprint” was non-existent. If we so much as dropped a GUM WRAPPER, my father would come down hard on us! Then came snowmobiles, OHVs and the odd dirt bike and RVs .Since the 80s, the population of Alberta has DOUBLED, and because of oil booms, people bought toys and campers by the score. These were used in ever increasing numbers in the Castle until a couple of years ago, after working put of country for a few years, I noticed the convoys of RVs and OHVs heading into the hills, saw people leave their RVs ALL SUMMER LONG in the bush, I saw the “footprint” of Off roaders scarring the land in a devastating manner. One does not need “Science” to see the destruction in the eastern slopes. One just needs to go and take a drive and you can see it. There is a small minority of Club OHVers that ride responsible, I have, however seen a majority of them tearing up the land, “mud-bogging” Campers pulling out of spots, not all mind you, but many, leaving garbage, dumping black water tanks down baker holes and in creeks. OHVers blowing up Beaver Dams,and riding across streams in numbers of up to 15 RIGHT BESIDE A BRIDGE! No, Mr Van Tighem Is accurate in his Op-Ed, and its too bad others in the OHV community cant see it. It may do them some good to have a look at the problem, and start helping with a solution instead of DEMANDING the old ways. Facts: Y2Y up here is a CANADIAN organization, it is not a RIGHT to abuse the lands, and Shannon Phillips does NOT own real estate in the Castle Ski Hill or anywhere else up there. People need to first of all discover what the facts are before any solution can be made, and Mr. VanTighem has a pretty good handle on the facts.

  7. already extinct says:

    Easy agreement phlushie and dedcow, you both pretty much nailed the story, the sad story the readers digest story of what has happened in Castle, around Hinton, Rocky Mountain House and much every place protected or not from Wood Buffalo to Waterton, where recreationalists with their charts, fishing poles and hiking gear, those who cherish nature & solitude fled ” to get away from it all”.

    Like Burton Cummings said “It’s the new mother nature taking over” and it is one dam tough fight to keep them from absolutely running the place to ruin, with their destructive booze-a-thons , noisy machinery, and crude accommodations. Indeed it is the “new mother nature come to call”

    Lets maintain pressure keeping these areas from the Disneyfication, the writer of the editorial above played a huge role in not controlling while superintendent in Banff, a mass of humanity run amuck, a commercial soup of yahoos, and tourist buses with no where to park – but plenty of joints to booze it up & party all night and all day.

    I wish him better luck in his new role, instructing us how to not allow the same mistakes be made in SW Alberta

  8. gbelsey says:

    As the subject of OHV trail use in Alberta continues to be a hot topic, I am constantly raising my eyebrows at some of the claims I read by those who support the extreme left views of organizations such as US-funded Y2Y and its sister-wife CPAWS. This article by Kevin Van Tighem is nothing short of silly, as he uses the topic of fake news to create….wait for it….fake news! And, he shared this Opinion piece with multiple news outlets around the province, proliferating the false information. Albertans are being socially engineered to believe that these extreme left eco-activist groups are the “Good guys”, but nothing is further from the truth. They are the masters of social engineering, and nothing good has ever come of this practice (ask the Germans how Nazi social-engineering went for them in the early part of the last century).
    It’s estimated that anywhere from 60% to 80% of people will read only the headline of an article, even when they share it. A cleverly worded headline, and a few carefully chosen words and sentences (such as including the word “noisy” when describing trails) go a long way in forming the opinions of a reader. These extreme left groups are fully aware of this fact, as well as the fact that the vast majority of readers will never do any fact checking.
    October 15, 2017 Annalise Klingbeil of the Calgary Herald (she has since left the paper) wrote an article titled “Poll says 55% of Albertans support more rules for off-highway vehicles”. The headline suggests that in fact most Albertans would agree with the extreme left supporters such as Y2Y, CPAWS and their counterparts. The research was performed by the award winning Citizen’s Research Council at Lethbridge College. We’ll ignore the fact that the survey questions were not released and there was no information available on how the phone numbers called were chosen. What’s alarming here is that the “most Albertans” referred to the in the headline were among 1,481 surveyed. In a province with a population of 4.146 Million people. This of course means that, according to the author, that 815 individuals was transformed into “55% of Albertans”. See what she did there? This is the epitome of fake news, yet CPAWS and Y2Y use this “research” to support their claims that “most Albertans are against OHV use”. Say the word “science”, throw in some misinformation, and boom….fake news.
    But, as contentious as the issue is, I have to admit it’s become somewhat of a sport for me to read the comment section on the Lethbridge Herald. Lethbridge seems to have an unusually high number of eco-activists and crotchety old men (and crotchety-old-men-in-waiting). This of course is not a scientifically researched fact, but merely an impression. I chuckle at the number of times I’ve been vilified by a stereo type of “booze-fueled, reckless, destructive OHV enthusiast”. You can add a few more to the list, no doubt. Nothing is further from the truth. And, being out there on the trails as much as I am, this image doesn’t represent anything but a very small minority of enthusiasts. The armchair critics who rant about their personal experience are full of crap, and spewing fake news like its substantiated fact. It’s laughable, except that it’s insulting.
    The most important fact that is being completely ignored is that the long term economic viability of these “parks” is such that they will be a drain on public coffers for us, our children and our grand-children. Our government is adding $32+ Billion to our debt load, our credit rating continues to drop, and we are watering down the tourism dollars significantly. Show me the science that proves me wrong. CPAWS via CPC claim that $1 invested brings $6 of return. More fake news, simply because it overlooks the fact we have 3 world-renowned, internationally marketed National Parks in the province, in addition to the multitude of provincial parks. “If you build it, they will come” was a Hollywood movie. A fantasy. It wasn’t real.
    As you sit in your crotchety-old-man recliner spouting off about the drunken fools on ATVs, open your wallet and start throwing your money away. The NDP will be taking more and more of it. But, you’ll have all of that wilderness that you won’t be able to afford to visit. If you get a second job, you can drive up the soon-to-be-paved road towards the Castle Mountain Resort, and stay in the “rustic” tent sites the NDP made for you. I’d like to thank you for your ranting, because, as I am now considered a “senior” in much of Alberta, listening to you reminds me that I need to get out into nature, ride my ATV while I still can, and forget about the extreme left for a while. Live every day with appreciation. I may be old, but I’m not dead, and heaven forbid that I ever turn out like you.


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