Clearing the air on recreation and public land

Clearing the air on recreation and public land

I have been misrepresented by the Lethbridge Herald in the June 26th article “Nobody at the Wheel.” This needs to be corrected because providing the public with accurate legal information is my job.

Managing recreational use of public land is hard and complicated.  Responsible recreational users might be the first to tell you there needs to be enforcement, education, and a movement towards real trails and campsites instead of industrial disturbances not built for these uses.  That is a lot of work and there are serious legal barriers to moving forward.

The root problem in Alberta is that public land agencies lack clear legislated direction to make recreation management their job.  This lack of mandate is compounded by lack of funding, and currently most users don’t pay for their experience or their impacts. To aggravate matters, improving physical infrastructure creates fear of legal liability should someone be injured.

These problems are way bigger than the polarized debate over “access” to public land. When it comes to access, apparently my position wasn’t clear. If all you want is access, there absolutely are not “too many gatekeepers” or bureaucratic hurdles as the Herald suggests. Public land in Alberta is legally “open unless closed.”  It’s almost hard to remember that recreational access is a privilege, not a right.  The barriers that concern me only come up when one tries to take action.  Under the current regime, efforts to formalize the recreation system can be spun as a rollback as much as an improvement.

The Americans do it differently and arguably better. The Herald has me wrong when it says that American states are creating single agencies. States have just as many public land agencies as we do, more if you count the federal government.  The key is that American legislation gives these numerous agencies similar direction to create recreational opportunities and mitigate impacts. Inside or outside parks, it will be someone’s job. They can get money from users for these purposes and they’re protected from lawsuits when accidents happen.  Their access system is “closed unless open,” but that tired debate becomes academic given the opportunities for responsible use.  We can do this in Alberta, too. The public and our land deserve no less.

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