By Carlie Connolly
MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, Drew Barnes believes the Species at Risk Act to be of little value when it comes to the protection of the sage grouse The federal government’s order of the SARA Act has affected many, causing a lot of uncertainty to what the value of the land is and what it will be.
“It has reduced the potential for grazing, it has reduced the potential for selling it and it has also caused some huge economic loss from the oil and gas industry,” said Barnes.
The oil and gas industry has been affected by the order greatly, and the City of Medicine Hat Oil and Gas Division is suing the federal government for $43 billion. There are also other companies, and as important, local hard working people in Cypress County that were working for the oil and gas companies in the area.
“Now that work is drying up because of the restrictions for access and height its created some economic hardship,” he said.
Barnes believes that the SARA Act has not helped protect the sage grouse in any way. He said that land that is semi arid, giving it a rest could actually cause more problems. It can make it turn into a desert, which in turn isn’t good for the sage grouse.
With the sage grouse population being down, it needs to be analyzed more closely. Barnes said that it’s predators, drought and West Nile that are the issue, not human and oil and gas activity.
The best proof was in the 1960s when there were lots of people on the land. There were also a lot of sage grouse, so Barnes argued that people and sage grouse are not incompatible.
“Ranchers are very good stewards of the land and oil and gas companies were actually doing the same, they were paying to relocate some sage grouse from Montana,” he said.
Barnes said that there is no proof that the SARA Act is indeed working and had a lot of negative things to say over positive.
“The only positive is an increase in awareness, but this is totally the wrong way.”
He said the current numbers are as low as 90 birds, which was also the number long before the SARA Act. He said that the Calgary Zoo incubation has produced two chicks for four million dollars, again proving there was a better way of doing this. Back in June, they had 13 sage grouse hatch at the zoo, but in subsequent months during their captive breeding program with them, they unfortunately lost 11 of the chicks, leaving them with two.
Through the negativity surrounding the SARA Act, Barnes believes there is a better solution to the problems that have occurred.
“My solution is a provincial protection order that allows oil and gas activity with continuing the offsets to protect the sage grouse including relocating from Montana, including protecting of the leks and their nesting areas and recognition that the rancher is good steward of the land and to come up with a system to reward ranchers for protecting the biodiversity of the area.”