The Migration: Desecrating the Crown (of the Continent)

Alberta’s 1976 Coal Coverage protected the delicate headwater areas of the province’s greatest trout streams from open-pit coal mining. However in a secretive, unilateral transfer in 2020, the Progressive Conservative authorities rescinded the Coal Coverage and bought new leases to overseas firms. (Jim & Lynda McLennan photograph)

It’s a subject that carries its personal sense of custom and thrives in folklore, particularly by means of tune: “It’s darkish as a dungeon, approach down within the mine;” “You load sixteen tons and what do you get?” and maybe most poignantly, from John Prine: “And daddy, received’t you’re taking me again to Muhlenberg County, down by the inexperienced river the place paradise lay? Properly, I’m sorry my son, you’re too late in asking. Mr. Peabody’s coal practice has hauled it away.”

The growth of floor coal mining in Alberta is Canada’s Pebble Mine challenge. It’s a fly-fishing challenge to make certain, however it’s far more than that. It’s one thing that threatens the water, air, soil, and elements of the Rocky Mountains themselves.

Fly Fisherman readers have seen many instances the attraction of Alberta’s wild trout streams portrayed right here. Lots of you may have fished these streams—the Oldman River, the Crowsnest River, the Livingstone River, the Highwood River, the Ram River—and plenty of extra hope to fish them sooner or later.

The headwaters of those streams and dozens extra lie within the Rocky Mountains, alongside the Continental Divide that varieties the border between Alberta and British Columbia. The streams stream eastward by means of the foothills, and the foremost arteries in these methods—the Oldman, Bow, and Pink Deer rivers—depart Alberta, and transfer into Saskatchewan and in the end north to Hudson’s Bay.

In western Alberta a lot of this water will be accessed on “crown land,” a time period designating land open to the general public. Street entry is considerably restricted in comparison with different trouty areas within the West, however a lot of the perfect fishing is available to anybody who needs to stroll. The mountain and foothill areas of those streams carry wild and native westslope cutthroat and bull trout, mountain whitefish, and rainbow trout.

And coal.

In 1976, after practically six years of examine and public session, the Progressive Conservative authorities of Alberta put in place a forward-thinking official “Coal Coverage” that protected particular delicate elements of Alberta’s foothills and mountains from future floor coal mining. That each one modified with the stroke of a pen in Could 2020, when the present United Conservative authorities of Alberta unilaterally rescinded that coverage, thereby eradicating the restrictions and protections, and opening 3.7 million acres (an space about half the dimensions of Vancouver Island) to open-pit strip mining, together with mountaintop-removal mining (which is simply what it feels like). Coal leases totaling greater than 12,000 acres at the moment are held by overseas (principally Australian) mining corporations in an space from close to the U.S. border with Montana to the city of Hinton in west-central Alberta.

Preliminary exploratory work has already begun, and development of roads and drilling pads is in progress close to the Crowsnest Cross, the epicenter of Alberta’s fly-fishing group and tradition. Elevated floor coal mining threatens the well being of the close by trout streams in addition to farms, ranches, and communities downstream—immediately by means of contamination of the water and elevated demand for water by the mining trade, and not directly by means of irreparable injury to the land itself.

It’s not simply what occurred that’s improper, but in addition the best way it occurred. The rescission of the Coal Coverage was introduced the Friday afternoon of the primary lengthy weekend of summer season in late Could, a tactic used when governments need to make bulletins they hope nobody will discover. However folks seen. They seen it was rescinded with no public session or enter from environmental consultants, tourism representatives, the scientific group, or First Nations. Then they discovered that the federal government’s Tourism Minister Tanya Fir and Minister of Setting and Parks Jason Nixon—sure, the officers in command of tourism and the setting—each had despatched letters of help to Australian coal corporations in late 2019. The federal government suggested the coal corporations that prohibitive restrictions would quickly be lifted, and inspired them to put money into Alberta.

I suppose it’s not fairly correct to say that no session occurred. The Alberta Coal Affiliation was consulted, and thru these letters of invitation, overseas coal corporations had been invited into the loop of communication six months earlier than Albertans discovered the deed had been completed.

As soon as the best way had been cleared for growth of mining, a YouTube video was posted in September, 2020 by Montem Assets, one of many corporations lusting over Alberta coal, which contained this quote from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney: “We have now been clearing the best way of regulatory hurdles. We might even see multi-billion-dollar capital funding in new coal mines within the (Crowsnest) Cross. We need to transfer these potential coal mines forward as fast as we will.” To see the total presentation, go to

Lots of of 1000’s of Albertans felt deceived and betrayed, fearing for the way forward for the wildness and wilderness which have outlined the province since its inception. “Belief the method,” they had been instructed. But the ideas of safety that had been previously a part of the method had been eliminated by the pro-coal United Conservative authorities. Unrelenting waves of telephone calls, emails, letters, and social media posts from environmentalists, close by communities, print and broadcast press, First Nations teams, ranchers, fly fishers, hunters, and the general public at giant got here, demanding reinstatement of the 1976 coverage.

The Migration: Desecrating the Crown (of the Continent)
Selenium is a poison that washes from the crushed rock faraway from open-pit coal mines. It runs into the watersheds, accumulates in trout, and causes deformities, reproductive failure, and dying. (Jim & Lynda McLennan photograph)

Mines Want Water

Trout want water; open-pit mining makes use of water—plenty of water. From The Narwhal: “However along with opening up protected areas to mining, the Alberta authorities can be proposing a plan that will enable it to present away some water allocations, together with some within the headwater tributaries of the Oldman River, to coal corporations. Underneath the proposed adjustments, billions of litres of water may very well be made obtainable to coal corporations—free of charge. And that, consultants say, would come on the expense of native communities and wildlife.” In keeping with aquatic ecologist David Mayhood, “ . . . there is no such thing as a approach to withdraw water from these headwaters with out negatively affecting bull trout and cutthroat trout important habitat, which might be unlawful and topic to very extreme penalties below the federal Species at Danger Act.”

Contemplating that water within the Oldman system is already briefly provide and over-allocated, water withdrawal is a major challenge by itself.

Retired biologist Richard Quinlan of Lethbridge, Alberta maybe summarizes it greatest: “Merely put, floor mining and safety of headwater streams are incompatible in mountain landscapes, reminiscent of within the Crowsnest Cross. One excludes the opposite.”

After the destructive press protection and unprecedented bombardment on social media, the provincial authorities made a shock announcement on February 8, 2021.
They promised the 1976 coal coverage could be reinstated, and Vitality Minister Sonya Savage, making the announcement, mentioned “Albertans have spoken loud and clear, and we now have heard them. Not solely will we reinstate the total 1976 coal coverage, we’ll implement additional protections and seek the advice of with Albertans on a brand new, trendy coal coverage. Alberta’s authorities is totally dedicated to defending the majestic Jap Slopes and the encompassing pure setting.”

This feels like a win for the fly fishers, hunters, and ranchers who rely upon this panorama, and maybe it’s. However skepticism is justified. In a Fb Stay session on Feb. 3, Premier Kenney made this bewildering assertion: “There are folks saying our authorities repealed the 1976 Coal Coverage . . . We did no such factor.” But on Feb. 8 his personal vitality minister reinstated the coverage.

Savage’s announcement declared that future exploration could be paused till public session takes place, and that mountaintop removing mining won’t happen. However coal leases granted previous to the rescission, in addition to these granted in the course of the interval of rescindment, are nonetheless in place. These offers are completed. Exploratory work continues on six completely different coal leases, involving the development of roads and drilling pads. And there was no point out of the water use in her announcement. Useful resource legislation professional on the College of
Calgary, Nigel Bankes, declared, “This isn’t reinstatement; it’s reinstatement minus what has occurred since June 1.”

There are sufficient loopholes, ambiguities, and grey areas within the reinstatement announcement that many certified observers consider it to be a bait-and-switch or a shell sport, and count on the federal government to take advantage of these loopholes to advertise and permit growth of floor mining. So maybe this was a win within the first skirmish, however future engagements are probably.

Growth of coal mining in Alberta is supported by some residents within the cities of the Crowsnest Cross, Blairmore, Coleman, Frank, and Hillcrest, the place coal mining has a protracted historical past. It’s opposed by hunters and fishermen, a rising variety of close by cities and municipalities, and by proponents of and contributors within the tourism trade (together with fly outlets, guides, and outfitters), who appropriately consider that sustainable tourism delivers far larger financial profit to Alberta than coal. First Nations and ranchers additionally oppose expanded mining and have launched authorized challenges.

It will not be fully correct to say that fly fishers are main this combat; that will dismiss the efforts of many different individuals who share concern and outrage with out having waded and forged in these waters. However it might be fully correct to say that most of the leaders are fly fishers, together with the mayor of the city of Excessive River, city councilors, writers, and investigative journalists.

A few years in the past I heard multi-decade Fly Fisherman editor and writer John Randolph ship a speech to a gathering of fly fishers in Toronto. My recall of a lot he mentioned has been eroded by the coarse grit of time, however I’ve not forgotten what he mentioned concerning present and future threats to the well being of our land and water: “Victories are short-term. Defeats are everlasting.” It stands at present as each an remark and a warning. And for this challenge in Alberta and different points somewhere else, two classes emerge. First, that educated public voices raised to a standard goal can have outcomes, and second, that we should stay endlessly, continuously vigilant.

The Migration: Desecrating the Crown (of the Continent)
Most of Alberta greatest headwaters streams are in danger from future open-pit coal mines. The headwaters of the Crowsnest River (proven right here), the Citadel, the Oldman, and the Ram rivers had been all protected by the 1976 Coal Coverage, which has been rescinded, reinstated, and is now below assessment. (Jim & Lynda McLennan photograph)

Keep Knowledgeable

For ongoing details about this challenge, observe the “Shield Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters” Fb web page. Go to and subscribe to the unbiased on-line investigative journals, The Tyee, and The Narwhal. Kevin Van Tighem has grow to be some extent man for this challenge. He’s an outdoorsman and naturalist with impeccable credentials. Comply with his Fb web page, together with that of Bruce Masterman, longtime Alberta fly fisher and author, and vocal councilor within the city of Excessive River.

For those who’ve fished or hung out in Alberta or if you happen to’d prefer to sooner or later, add your voice to these opposing open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s trout nation. For a abstract of the state of affairs, with frequent updates and particular recommendations on methods you’ll be able to take part and make your opposition identified, go to and

Jim McLennan is a longtime Fly Fisherman contributing editor, musician, and creator of a number of books, together with Trout Streams of Alberta and the award-winning Blue Ribbon Bow. He was one of many first guides on the Bow River, opened Calgary’s first fly store, Nation Pleasures, and along with his spouse Lynda teaches non-public and group fly-fishing colleges in Turner Valley, Alberta (

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