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Who is minding Alberta’s fish and wildife?

Probably by the time you read this, your search will be endless for fragments of the old Fish and Wildlife Division. It will not exist under any recognizable name or department.

This was the Alberta government agency that inventoried and assessed fish and wildlife populations, allocated opportunity for hunting and fishing, determined species at risk and their recovery, ran fish hatcheries, provided hunter training and conservation education, enforced fishing and hunting rules, and, most importantly, provided advice on proposed land uses to ensure fish and wildlife populations were conserved.

The UCP government has been stealthily engaged in the final gutting of what was left of the Fish and Wildlife Division. Fish and wildlife allocation has been hived off to Forestry, Parks and Tourism, under the auspices of a minister who coincidentally has one of the largest guiding and outfitting companies in Alberta. I’m sure that isn’t a conflict of interest.

The fish culture section (all the hatcheries) has been sent to Agriculture and Irrigation, leaving the species-at-risk function behind in Environment and Protected Areas.

Previous conservative governments transferred enforcement (the Fish and Wildlife officers) to the Solicitor General’s department. Much of the fish and wildlife inventory and habitat development function went to the non-government Alberta Conservation Association. Resource education was privatized under the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors Association. 


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The UCP touts grass roots democracy and red tape reduction. Yet, none of these recent changes have had any public consultation, let alone input from conservation organizations. As to red tape reduction, how parcelling out the functions of fish and wildlife management between four government departments and two non-government organizations makes things more efficient defies logic.

These changes are the equivalent of sending hospitals to Municipal Affairs, family health to Education, trauma and emergency services to Transportation, and diagnoses to Public Safety. It’s hard to imagine any successful business that would operate on such an unco-ordinated and non-integrated approach.

Like a successful business the delivery of government programs, in the public interest, need to function in an integrated way under the umbrella of one departmental administration with a similar purpose and direction. 

For fish and wildlife to be managed well, there needs to be adequate, timely inventories of populations; an assessment of what the allocation should be to hunting and fishing interests; ways to monitor population responses to harvest; robust habitat protection; policy development to ensure biodiversity is always part of government agendas; responses to the legal (and moral) requirements for species at risk, with necessary recovery actions; provision of additional recreational angling opportunities through fish hatchery operations; and a level of enforcement to ensure rules are followed.


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These functions are not divisible, hinge upon each other, and can only work as a unified whole.

How fish and wildlife management and conservation will happen, in such a fractured way, between four departments, all with differing mandates, priorities and directions, is a question unanswered (it may be the question was never thought of at all).

The real risk is that our fish and wildlife populations will slip through the bureaucratic cracks, the intents for conservation will be weakened, and red tape will increase with interdepartmental conflicts over mandates, budgets and staff levels.

I admit some bias in this assessment as I was a part of the Fish and Wildlife Division before the hemorrhaging began, when it was still considered one of the elite fish and wildlife agencies in North America.

Like selling provincial parks and throwing the eastern slopes open to coal exploration, gutting fish and wildlife management is another example of how out of touch the UCP is with Albertans over the conservation of resources considered as provincial treasures. It speaks to a most extraordinary and dangerous hubris.

Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.



Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 


Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.



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Dream to conserve the Yarrow comes to fruition

If you’ve ever taken a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park, you have likely been impacted by the sheer beauty of the Twin Butte area. On Oct. 25, the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced a new campaign to protect Yarrow Creek Ranch — a dream come true for the late Charlie Fischer.

The 1,650-hectare landscape features several exceptional habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, creeks and mixed forests.

Through the campaign, NCC is looking to raise $6.9 million to conserve the property while ensuring the natural rangeland stays intact, maintaining a sustainable and working landscape for the property owners, the Fischer-Cuthbertson family, and local ranchers to continue raising cattle and other livestock on.

Landscape view with autumn forest, river, sky and mountains.
With the property’s wide range of habitats and southern location, the Yarrow supports one of the highest numbers of species recorded at a potential NCC conservation property in Alberta. Photo by Brent Calver

During a study in 2020, 110 wildlife species were documented on the property. Of these species, over two dozen are considered sensitive or at-risk, including bobolink, barn and bank swallows, sharp-tailed grouse, great blue herons, trumpeter swans and grizzly bears.

Additionally, six of Alberta’s nine bat species have been spotted at the Yarrow. Of particular significance are the little brown bat, northern myotis, eastern red bat and silver-haired bat.

Four amphibian species of note have also been documented: the Canadian toad, tiger salamander, boreal toad and Columbia spotted frog.

Rare or uncommon plant species found at the Yarrow include the Mariposa lily, blue camas, Hooker’s Townsend daisy, lance-leaved paintbrush, striped coralroot and spotted coralroot.

NCC says the Yarrow’s importance stretches beyond providing pristine wildlife habitat, as its many wetlands hold vast amounts of water that help reduce the severity of drought and buffer the impact of flooding in the area.

Drywood Creek and Yarrow Creek are two important streams that flow through the property, transporting water from Alberta’s southern headwaters to the Waterton Reservoir, thereby supporting the people and economy of southwestern Alberta.

The Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association, which works to support landowners in conservation and stewardship of biodiversity, is happy that the Fischer-Cuthbertson family decided to take steps to conserve the property through NCC.

“It’s an amazing property! We would like to see long-term conservation,” says Nora Manners, executive director of the WBRA. “It keeps the land part of the local economy.”

Members of the association have been on the Yarrow several times in order to conduct species-at-risk work and have seen the beauty of the area first hand.

For Tom Lynch-Staunton, who grew up just north of Lundbreck and is now NCC’s regional vice-president for Alberta, the area holds a personal connection.

“I find it personally special because I grew up down there. Our playground, a lot of the time, was in the Waterton park front,” he says.

“It feels personally special to be able to ensure that it’s going to remain the way it is and conserve for generations.”

As for the Fischer-Cuthbertson family, they stated in a press release that it is meaningful to see the ranch conserved by NCC, especially considering their “Grandpa Charlie” always saw the beauty in the area and wished to conserve it.

Charlie purchased the land when he retired and was keen to practise sustainable grazing while ensuring the ranch was managed thoughtfully in order for nature to thrive.

“We look forward to revisiting the breathtaking views, magnificent wildlife and the winding creek with the grandchildren, sharing memories of their Grandpa Charlie and tales of the adventures we enjoyed here together,” says the family.

“It’s a story that continues through the generations,” Nora adds.

If Charlie were here today, he’d surely be proud of his family’s commitment to conserving Yarrow Creek Ranch.

Should you wish to support conservation of the Yarrow, find out how you can help by visiting