Special interest groups often invent destructive rumours to advance their causes.
Faced with a barrage of fake news, ordinary citizens have only one real defence: insisting on truth. Democracy stands on a foundation of honest debate, not manipulative mistruths.
Consider the mistruths being spread about Alberta government’s long-overdue efforts to restore environmental health and social fairness to our public lands.
Many baby boomers remember family camping trips, trout fishing and healthy outdoor adventure along the Eastern Slopes.
But laissez-faire mismanagement of our forest reserves in recent years coincided with the growth of off-highway vehicle use. OHVs too often shred vegetation, erode soil and create drainage gullies.
Well-designed trails can reduce the damage. But we don’t have those trails.
Instead, off-roaders use seismic cutlines, old logging roads, cattle trails and any other linear feature they can find.
That has created a web of eroding, muddy, noisy trails. Some OHV users try to behave responsibly, but damaged land and lax enforcement have given rise to a growing minority of aggressive vandals. Families like mine no longer camp and fish in places we once loved.
Organized OHV groups insist all we need is better-built trails and more enforcement.
They say they’re glad to share. Now that the government is acting on their advice, however, it is reaping a harvest of anger instead of thanks.
Two years ago, the government hired 23 new enforcement officers, just as the off-road groups had asked. Recent land use planning in the southwest promises a well-engineered motorized trail network in places that don’t conflict with wildlife, fish and other users.
Reducing motorized use to what the land can handle will offer the rest of us the chance again to hunt, fish and hike in quiet places.
In short, the government plans to make room for all users, increase enforcement and build proper trails – just what OHV groups once said they wanted.
But the fake news machine is in full throttle: ads and internet memes warn that all OHV use is being shut down.
Rallies warn of a dark conspiracy to close public lands completely.
There is no such conspiracy.
Others say that the government’s science is fraudulent.
When truth won’t advance one’s cause, fake news become the weapon of choice. Engaged and active citizenship is our only defence.
The government will soon seek public comment on draft land use plans for our Eastern Slopes.
Albertans need to form their own opinions based on facts, not react to mistruths spread by self-interested minorities.
KEVIN VAN TIGHEM,
Author of Heart Waters/Sources of the Bow River and Our Place/Changing the Nature of Alberta