Large rally in Drayton Valley over Alberta’s plans for Bighorn Country

Protesters gathered in Drayton Valley Monday evening to voice their concerns about the proposed plans for Bighorn Country, which stretches between Banff and Jasper National Park.

“With the cancellation of the public information sessions, this rally now becomes the only voice for the people locally,” Rally Canada volunteer media coordinator Tom Hinderks said.

“It’s important that they have the opportunity to hear from speakers who are directly affected, as well as get their own voices and emotions out in a peaceful, respectful, civil manner.”

On Saturday, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips announced that upcoming public information sessions in Drayton Valley, Edmonton, Red Deer and Sundre were cancelled.

“I have heard stories of Albertans afraid to attend community events, Albertans berated in public, Albertans followed home and Albertans feeling intimidated to not speak their mind or participate in this important discussion,” her statement read.

“These reports are not only deeply concerning, this behaviour is not reflective of the values we all share. I call on all of my elected colleagues to denounce the bullying and harassment being faced by Bighorn supporters.”

Phillips stated the government isn’t done getting public feedback on the issue and will schedule two telephone town hall sessions “where Albertans from Drayton Valley and Red Deer will have the opportunity to engage government officials directly with their questions about the proposal.”

The engagement period was also extended to Feb. 15.

In November, the province proposed four provincial parks, four provincial recreation areas and a new public land use zone for the Bighorn area. The government plans to spend $40 million over the next five years creating campgrounds, hiking trails and trails for off-highway vehicle use.

However, some residents say they have not been consulted or included in the process.

Rally Canada, the group that organized Monday’s event, said it has received “ongoing emails, Facebook communications and personal contacts with literally hundreds of residents of our area of West Central Alberta telling us that they have not been part of the process in the consultations on the Bighorn proposals.”

The group says those people include hikers, campers, anglers, trappers, loggers, agricultural producers, cattle producers, oil and gas companies, recreational users and residents.

In a news release, Rally Canada said the province’s web-based survey process is “flawed and in rural internet service areas it is both time consuming and hundreds have reported giving up due to repeatedly kicked out of the online survey process.”

The Bighorn plan is supported by 37 former top provincial biologists in a letter sent to the premier last week.

“We have to start dialing back on some of the land uses if we want to maintain some of those vital resources like water,” said Lorne Fitch, a retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologist, on Sunday.

He and his colleagues penned the letter because he said there has been misinformation that has led to inflamed dialogue on the issue. Fitch is calling for a less politically-motivated discussion.

However, protesters say there’s misinformation on both sides of the debate.

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