Articles
11.08.11

Cowboys Governmentboys & Land

Cowboys, Government Boys, and Land Stewardship

The creases in his Stetson were filled with generations of blood, sweat, and trail dust.  The brim of that old vaquero's hat cast a shadow over his eyes. Sitting round a campfire a sip of hot coffee, billowing as much steam as the smoldering embers danced with smoke, got the seasoned cowboy talking.  Muttering something about the code of the old west; he stopped for a minute and topped up his half rusted cast mug with a shot of 'rheumatism medicine' straight from the tarnished flask in his tin cloth slicker.  Not paying attention if anyone was listening - most listened intently when the trail boss talked - the cowboy continued on about the code of the old west.  He said; 'keep independent, but always ready to help your neighbor'.  Feed the stranger and his hoss; don't ask questions.  Don't argue with the wagon boss.  If he's wrong, he'll figure it out.  Feed the strays and take care of your neighbor's cattle like you would your own - he'll do the same for you.  'When paper and pen aren't handy, back your word up as you would your own signature'.

Talk moved on to managing pasture and the rangeland for the summer months.  That old cowboy would spend most of his time in the summer season moving cows and pack 'in salt to parts of the range that would otherwise be ignored by the herd.  Most days are spent managing grasslands making sure there is enough for Mother Nature and the herd to thrive - otherwise the grazing land will diminish.  The cowboy had one other favorite topic, he would start off by saying, 'ask nothing from them government boys, or you'll find yourself in the rat race'.

It seems the cattle business, as have many other enterprises in Alberta, have forgotten these lessons.  To be fair it could be we have not joined the rat race…it is entirely possible the race has just simply caught up or swelled with Alberta's 'human' population.  Regardless, it is now up to the 'the government boys' to legislate our land use in the province to the extent we have often over grazed in what was once considered a bottomless trough.  Some of this legislation is spawned from the Water Act, and the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), with supporting frameworks, directives, and initiatives coming from the Alberta Water for Life Strategy and the Land-use framework.  'An old cowboy would roll over in his grave if he learned those government boys'…could start telling him what the best practice is to run his ranch, or that the lands owned by the ranch may become part of a cumulative study that could in fact adversely affect the value of his operations and land holdings with little market based engagement between a willing buyer and a willing seller.  Those 'government boys' could simply wave the legal document entitled ALSA at any title holder or mineral rights disposition and rescind water licenses, crown mineral leases, oil sands development permits and grazing land permits.  Enough to make any hombre string his lariat to the nearest tree bough ready to commence that final act in what used to be a hang 'in offence.

Not many would argue access to fresh water, clean air, and healthy landscapes are essential in the management of our industries and in urban or rural development.  And, it is reasonable to most that the oil and gas industry, the cattle business, logging, coal and power generation be managed to the degree we deploy appropriate technology and practices that ensure our success and the success of our neighbors downstream, downwind or down the path to our future. These are the good intentions of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act and the ensuing dialogue of cumulative effects and the Land-use framework. The challenge is the market mechanism the Alberta Government has chosen to engage in the disposition of land use.

At the outset one of the purposes of ALSA is to; Create legislation and policy that enable sustainable development by taking account of and responding to the cumulative effect of human endeavor and other events.

Section 2 (i) describes cumulative effects as; Any effect on the economy, the environment, a community, human health, or safety, a species, or an objective in a regional plan, regardless of the scale, nature, intensity, duration, frequency, probability or potential of the effect, and (ii) a cumulative effect arises over time or in combination with other effects.

ALSA also establishes limits in natural earth systems or in events systemic to these cumulative studies whereby; Section 2 (ff) a "threshold" has the meaning given to it in a regional plan and may include a limit, target, trigger, range, measure, index or unit of measurement

Cowboys, oilmen, loggers et al take note, 'them government boys' have lots of power in the implementation of a regional plan which can include; sect 9 (2) (h) authority to 'expropriation by the crown under the Expropriation Act, including expropriation of mines and minerals'

If the title holder is lucky enough to engage in the market based instruments mentioned earlier they may find the code of the old west has been replaced by; The Lieutenant Governor in Council may through, Division ( 1) 23 (a), support or advance research and development into the creation, application and implementation of instruments, including market based instruments to support, enhance and implement the purposes and objectives of this Act and objectives and policies in or proposed for a regional plan. Whatever happened to that hand shake from negotiation in good faith?

Sweat poured off the brim of that gritty vaquero's Stetson, his mount stood quiet grazing after a mornings work, the herd loudly drank in fresh clumps of rich rangeland grass content in their new stand of pasture with a small creek meandering in the background.  The campfire smoldering enough to keep that pot of coffee hot and steaming.  Wind rushing through the leaves of tree and meadow in that foothills ranch reminded the trail crew of the sound of paper in some bureaucrats office, and the cow hands chatter earlier of;  how could we have gotten to the point a government can confiscate the essence of all that is great in this land.  The vaquero's face, hidden by the steam lashing off the rim of his tin coffee cup, hardly moved when the simple answer ushered forth, 'we've lost our way, our word is not as good as our brand and we are willing to sacrifice our neighbors, his offspring, and the strays in his herd so we can earn a buck bigger and faster'.

Take heed those overgrazing, over producing over logging, or simply treading heavily in the delicate boreal or montane regions of our province. Let's check first to see if these practices and processes are indeed safe and reliable.  Let's engage with those downstream, downwind, or down and out from the effluent of unsustainable commerce. The government boys are coming.  Right from the code of the old west we will take care of our neighbor's cattle like they are our own ensuring the right of each to flourish.

Patrick Brennan President of Upstream Research can quote Will James, Andy Russell, and of course numerous jurisdictions and sources for independent research  in commodities, equities, and related effects of water markets and other 'triggers' in evaluating corporate guidance and the deployment of technology in the oil and gas industry.  Contact pdbrennan@upstreamresearch.ca or phone 403-444-7396