SAGE is a leading voice for a healthy and environmentally sustainable community.

Oki.  We respectfully acknowledge that SAGE meets on the traditional lands of Piikani, Kainai & Siksika, members of Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) and the homelands of Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III.  We are grateful for their keeping of these lands and waters - past, present & future.

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AWA: Bison Designation in Alberta
15 March 2023

Dear Minister Schulz and Minister Wilson,

We are writing to request your support for the reclassification of free-ranging bison as ‘wildlife’ under the Alberta Wildlife Act. This important change would recognize their vital role in the ecosystem, provide protection for wandering herds, and acknowledge the cultural and historic significance for Indigenous communities. Reclassification would also align Alberta with the neighbouring provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia, where bison are already recognized as wildlife.

American bison (Bison bison), also known as buffalo, iinnii (in Blackfoot) or Tatâga (in Stoney Nakoda), are a keystone species, critical to the health and long-term sustainability of ecosystems, particularly in the prairie region. Their movement, grazing, wallowing and other behaviours support the creation of distinct habitats, promoting plant and animal biodiversity and encouraging ecosystem resiliency. Unlike cattle, which are domesticated and an introduced species, bison evolved as a part of the grasslands and open woodlands of the boreal forest. The current classification of plains bison and wood bison outside designated Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) as domesticated livestock fails to recognize their integral role within the ecosystem.


Designating plains and wood bison as ‘wildlife’ under the Alberta Wildlife Act is long overdue, and is vital for effective management, conservation and recognition of bison on the Alberta landscape. As Minister of Environment and Protected Areas and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, your respective ministries have the responsibility to protect Alberta’s biodiversity and ecosystem health, and work towards meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous communities. Bison, as both a keystone species and strong cultural symbol, are crucial to maintaining ecological health and supporting Indigenous healing.

For the complete letter, click ... here.

The Zombie-like Nature of the Proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Mine
Lorne Fitch, P.Biol.
Published 05 March 2024 in The Lethbridge Herald

In the recent pronouncement from the minister of Energy that the proposed Grassy Mountain coal mine is still an “advanced project” one might conclude he believes in the living dead. Nothing it seems is ever dead, it just waits in a moribund condition for the kiss of life from a government out of touch with Albertans’ feelings about blowing the tops off mountains in the Eastern Slopes. Apparently this minister required a bit of remedial tutoring to be assured that Grassy Mountain is in the Eastern Slopes.

He may not have read the report from brave scientists in another government department who concluded the old mine and the one on Tent Mountain continue to spew toxic materials at levels that far exceed provincial and federal standards. I suppose that is, in his estimation, a reflection a mine couldn’t really be dead, if it continues to actively and negatively affect downstream water and water drinkers.

On the minister’s reading list should have been the results of the joint federal/provincial panel. The panel heard from dozens of experts who debunked all the Australian company’s claims of minimal impacts, successful mitigation plans (including dealing with selenium and other toxic chemicals), bountiful economic benefits and so on, ad nauseum. That information, the facts and evidence then allowed the panel to conclude this project was not in the public interest. None of the evidence has been successfully contested by the company.

The minister must have also overlooked or slept through the massive outpouring of concern from Albertans over the prospect of turning the Eastern Slopes into a series of black holes at the expense of watershed protection, biodiversity maintenance, recreational and tourism attributes and the very real specter taxpayers would be stuck with the reclamation costs (as is so very evident now with the petroleum sector).

Based on the extreme backlash, the Alberta government convened a “Coal Policy Committee” to advise it on coal issues. The extensive public engagement process found Albertans’ “top of mind” concern was the environmental impacts of coal mines. Two things stand out from the results of the consultation:

“Albertans have concerns about the regulatory process for coal activities.    Albertans are concerned that coal policies can be easily overridden when many thought  that these policies were legally binding.”

With this latest revelation about an about face on the status of Grassy Mountain those concerns still register large. The minister might consider this report required reading.

This situation resembles so closely an anecdote about W. C. Fields, an American comedian. He was an avowed atheist, yet was observed by a friend reading the bible on his deathbed. Asked why, Fields reply was “Looking for loopholes, looking for loopholes.” It would seem there have been an astounding number of loopholes sought yet all that have been through a judicial review have failed. Experts in law and policy point out the project is “legally dead.”

What else could explain the minister’s reluctance to drive a stake through the heart of this coal proposal and put it and Albertans out of our misery?

Lorne Fitch is a Professional Biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife Biologist and a past Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.

We're Running Out the Clock on Caribou Population
Lorne Fitch, P.Biol.
Published in The Lethbridge Herald 16 February 2024

Great billows of smoke were used to hide battleships in wartime. Smokescreens are still employed, but to disguise a lack of meaningful activity, especially with the long-running battle to save caribou in Alberta. You can’t see the smoke, but it’s there in the form of caribou task forces, ostensibly tasked with saving caribou, but having the opposite intent.

The federal government, the last chance for species at risk, has told the province to produce and deliver on a plan to ensure caribou don’t go the way of the passenger pigeon. A recently released report, years late, shows little or no progress.

Caribou task forces were formed of concerned conservation groups and Indigenous Peoples plus the usual footdraggers of industry. In particular, the timber and energy industries are the ultimate gate-keepers, trying to run out the clock for caribou, as they maximize economic opportunity. They are abetted by timorous provincial politicians, who hide in plain sight, behind the smokescreen of these committees.

Caribou are running out of time. Or, time is running out of caribou. This species depends on mature to old growth forests. This is where lichens, the caribou’s main food source, are found. Mature forests don’t provide forage for moose and deer—the mainstay for wolves. When timber is harvested habitat shifts to benefit moose and deer and the logging roads, seismic lines, oilpatch roads and pipeline right of ways are perfect travel lanes for wolves. Caribou lose.

The pace of resource extraction in the northern foothills and boreal forest is at a stage where no caribou population seems safe and most are declining.

Biologists hold little hope if the present trend continues. In the face of this, industry denies, delays, detracts and deflects from any reasonable solution that would keep caribou on the land.

The timber industry says, “Don’t worry, in 80 to 100 years there will be lots of caribou habitat.” This would be like assuring those in the conference room that oxygen isn’t available right now, but will be in a day or two. Perhaps it was a lack of oxygen that prompted the industry response. An energy representative replied that the pace of oil and gas extraction had to continue or else, “Where would the government get the financial resources for caribou habitat restoration?” These are not solutions, but rather hollow and disingenuous excuses.

In the sitcom, The Simpsons, Ned’s parents were beatniks, early precursors to hippies. In the care, raising and nurturing of Ned, they rejected the conventional norms and disciplines of parental authority and direction.

Ned developed symptoms of bad behaviour, beyond their control. In desperation they took him to a child psychologist. The doctor asked what they had tried to change Ned’s behaviour. Ned’s father, frustrated and desperate for help said, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.”

This Simpson’s episode is a perfect metaphor for the lack of progress on caribou conservation.

This smokescreen doesn’t cover caribou, because there are so few left to disguise.

Politicians and the senior bureaucrats have forgotten who their “tribe” is—it is Albertans and not industry. That misplaced loyalty got us to where we are today with caribou. Utah Philips, folk singer, raconteur and anarchist, once said: “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are doing the killing have names and addresses.” Their names and affiliations are writ large on the phoney caribou task forces and, in the background, those who set up these smokescreens to disguise their spineless behaviour.

Doing nothing is not a course of action. Instead, it is a flight from responsibility and accountability. It may be high time for the federal government to step in, to be the adults in the room.

The province and its industry allies seem intent on running out the clock on caribou to ensure no appropriate recovery action is taken. Shame on them.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired provincial Fish and Wildlife Biologist and a former Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.

Assumptions About Irrigation Agriculture Expansion Called into Question
Cheryl Bradley, 24 Feb 2024

A recent article in the Lethbridge Herald (Feb 14) regarding designation of an AgriFood Processing Zone  contains assertions by UCP MLA Grant Hunter to Lethbridge County Council that irrigation districts are making decisions about expanding by 300,000 acres and that more water storage is being built, paid for by government and ratepayers, to support that expansion.  I suggest announcements of expanded irrigation and reservoirs to support more water capture and diversion at public expense are untethered from reality, reasonableness and public scrutiny.

The current drought throughout the Oldman River Basin is characterized by mountain snowpack well below long-term average, streams and rivers at minimum flows for aquatic life, and reservoirs, on-stream and off-stream, well below normal levels for this time of year. Models of climate change suggest more frequent and prolonged drought is our future. There is not enough water to fill existing reservoirs with just two years of below average mountain snowpack and precipitation. Is it realistic to build, at great public expense, more storage capacity that will remain unfilled in many years, provide more surface for water loss through evaporation and increase stress on rivers?

Irrigated area in the Oldman basin has increased at least 16% since restrictions on water allocation were first implemented by government three decades ago. Another 15% or more expansion is proposed, as indicated by MLA Hunter. Irrigation districts, supported by government, justify expansion within their current water licences based on calculations of water saved through improvements in irrigation infrastructure such as more efficient pivots on farms and replacing canals with pipelines. A growing body of research concludes that irrigation water use in semi-arid regions has increased despite claims of limits to allocation and improvements in efficiency.  In a ‘paradox of irrigation efficiency’ more water is withdrawn and applied as irrigators increase crop area and switch to higher-value, more water-intensive crops (e.g. potatoes, corn, hay). Summer flow in the Oldman River is already reduced by approximately 60% from natural levels in its lower reaches. Increased evapotranspiration from warming climate will place further stress on the Oldman River and its tributaries below major dams and diversions. Is irrigation expansion worth the increased risk to our rivers’ water quality, fish and cottonwood forests, not to mention other water users?

Two-thirds of the Oldman River’s natural flow in an average year is allocated for irrigation agriculture comprising eighty-seven percent of total volume of water licences. Five percent is licenced for industrial use and only two percent for municipalities. Eight irrigation districts hold the largest, most senior water licences dating back to 1899. Because of historical over-allocation, the basin is closed to new water licences. As river flow declines the proportion of water used for irrigation agriculture, will only increase. Rights to water, our most essential and limiting public resource, will be in more demand with population growth, economic diversification and settlement of indigenous rights. Is it reasonable to entrench one sector’s stranglehold on water rights and deny options to future generations for a diverse and environmentally sustainable economy? 

MLA Hunter’s presumptions about irrigation expansion and increased storage paid for by government are premature and ignore the established need for environmental impact assessment and review by the Natural Resources Conservation Board to determine if the proposed projects are in the public interest. There has yet to be a full evaluation of costs and benefits. Are there implications for communities and land use in our headwaters? Are we witnessing undue influence by the agrifood industry over important land use and water management decisions that have repercussions for all of us who call the Oldman River basin home?  It is reasonable and realistic to expect public scrutiny of these matters which MLA Hunter considers a done deal.

2 February 2024, Letter to Hon. Ric McIver, Minister for Municipal Affairs

Municipal Charter and Building Code Bylaw Authority

The Southern Alberta Group for the Environment (SAGE) opposes the proposed changes to the Municipal Charter regulation for the cities of Calgary and Edmonton, specifically the proposed removal of Section 7(2) of the Safety Code Act Amendments which currently reads:

(2) In the Safety Codes Act, in section 66, the following is added after subsection (3):
(4) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the City may make bylaws relating to environmental matters, including, without limitation, matters relating to energy consumption and heat retention, but only to the extent those bylaws are consistent with all regulations made under this section and section 65.01 and all codes declared in force by those regulations.

Canada has joined 120 nations in committing to net-zero emissions by 2050, including all G7 countries. Many responsible provinces and cities in Canada have also made net-zero commitments by supporting innovation designed to transform the energy-performance of the built environment, including residential homes.

Removing the ‘building code bylaw authority’, which allows a municipality to make bylaws regarding energy consumption and heat reduction, restricts the sort of innovation and technological progress required to reduce emissions related to the built environment.

For the complete letter, click ... here.

23 October 2023

Running on Empty

Lorne Fitch is a Professional Biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife Biologist and a former Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.

There need to be periodic reminders that the frontier aspect of Alberta is over and we need to grow up. Unlimited space and inexhaustible resources are no more. Perhaps last on the list to be recognized is water, especially for southern Alberta. The Alberta government seems incoherently reluctant to make Albertans aware of the real possibility of an impending water crisis.

Ironically, for an arid landscape we still seem stuck on the perspective that water is abundant and growth is not limited by the supply of it. In reality water has always been in short supply. We have been lulled into a state of complacency with the marvels of dams, reservoirs and canals. These have given us an impression of abundance. Despite all of this engineering infrastructure we are still just one or two years of low snowmelt away from water shortages.

Climate change isn’t our future—experts remind us it is our present. Declining river flows, persistent drought, increased temperatures, heat domes, greater evaporation and more wicked weather events signal our world has changed and has done so irrevocably. The frontier of easy water, reliable water, abundant water and engineered water is at an end.

This is not the end of our world but it’s time to be smarter, more conscious of the changes and better stewards of what water is available. This might start with recognition that irrigation expansion is a dream that cannot be fulfilled. Even if we completely drain our rivers and renege on interprovincial water sharing agreements this dream cannot be sustained. We can’t make more water, building more storage is an expensive, zero-sum game and any temporary advantage is at the mercy of climate change.

For the complete article, click ... here.

6 December 2023

Comments regarding proposed EID Snake Lake Reservoir Expansion EIA proposed Terms of Reference

The EIA Terms of Reference focuses assessment of environmental impact to the direct effects of construction of Snake Lake Reservoir, referred to as the “Project”. Not mentioned is expansion of ~5,000 irrigation acres that is proposed in conjunction with expansion of Snake Lake Reservoir. This proposed increase in irrigated acres on the assessment role of the Eastern Irrigation District and associated ongoing activities are integrally linked to proposed reservoir expansion and impacts will be necessarily incidental. Expansion of irrigation acres should be included in the definition, description and impact assessment of the project.

To read the complete submission click ... here.

15-Nov-23 Letter to Ministers Schulz and Neudorf

Renewable Energy and Land Use Planning

The undersigned energy and conservation organizations make the following general recommendations to the Government of Alberta on a number of critcal issues concerning land use and renewable energy in Alberta. These overarching recommendations complement further specific recommendatons our organizations may make as part of the Alberta Utilites Commission Inquiry into the ongoing economic, orderly and efficient development of electricity generation in Alberta.

- Need to accelerate and grow renewable energy [...]

- Complete overdue regional planning under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act [...]

- Address gaps in Alberta’s protection of nature [...]

- Need for consistent and fair treatment across all land uses [...]

We urge you to move quickly to lift the damaging pause on renewable energy approvals while addressing these critical gaps in Alberta’s approach to natural resource management that apply to all land uses. We request the Government of Alberta commit to completing land use planning, updating Alberta’s approach to conservation to be consistent with increasing expectations for protection of nature, and work to ensure consistent decision-making across all resource sectors. Our organizations look forward to meeting with you to advance these issues. We trust these major themes will be reflected in deliberations of the Inquiry.

For the complete letter, click ... here.

For Pembina Institute's Submission to the AUC ... here.

Air Heat Pumps in Lethbridge?

There has been a lot of media attention given to the topic of air heat pumps as a means of transitioning from fossil natural gas to electricity for heating our buildings. Unfortunately, like most technologies, the benefits of air heat pumps depend on the climate and the source (and cost) of electricity. Evaluating an air heat pump installation in Halifax or Edmonton or Lethbridge will likely show different results. What the are the results for Lethbridge?

For a full analysis, click ... here.



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