Bighorn Country information sessions were cancelled due to “inflamed rhetoric,” bullying and harassment faced by the project’s proponents, according to a statement released by the Alberta government on Saturday.
The proposal, released in November 2018, would see a chunk of west-central Alberta — public lands from Banff National Park’s bounds eastward to Drayton Valley — conserved for what the province called economic development, tourism and recreational opportunities, plus cultural significance for Indigenous people and habitats for at-risk animals.
The ongoing engagement process has reached about 30,000 Albertans, the government said, with the goal of collecting more feedback.
Shannon Phillips, Alberta environment and parks minister, said people are passionate about the stunning region — but problems are brewing.
“There are conflicts between user groups, a lack of basic infrastructure and enforcement, and encroaching impacts on wildlife and natural ecosystems,” she said in a statement. “Today, we’re running the risk of losing the very things that make Bighorn special.”
The engagement process hit a roadblock after Phillips heard about people feeling afraid to attend community events or being berated, followed home and intimidated.
“I have become increasingly concerned about the inflamed rhetoric and inaccurate statements made by some organizations and individuals on social media,” Phillips said.
“This has led to significant misinformation on the status and substance of the proposal for Bighorn Country and, more recently, allegations of bullying, abuse, and concerns over personal safety.”
Because the government said it cannot guarantee public safety at these events, the Drayton Valley, Red Deer, Sundre and Edmonton sessions have been cancelled and the online engagement period was extended to Feb. 15.
“We believe our proposal for Bighorn Country sets the stage to achieve the right balance of environmental, economic, Indigenous and social values and goals,” Phillips said. “We’ve developed this proposal thoughtfully and have used what we’ve heard from 30 years of consultations to draft it.”
She said feedback is still necessary, but it’s imperative that it’s done respectfully so that all feel welcome in shaping the region’s future.
The province plans to have town halls by phone for Drayton Valley and Red Deer residents at a later date.