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Alberta Government Fines Hunter for Trespassing on Australian Coal Lease

Levi Williams-Whitney traversed the land to make a video opposing open-pit mining. He has no regrets.

Andrew Nikiforuk 21 Dec 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist whose books and articles focus on epidemics, the energy industry, nature and more. He owns land in southern Alberta near the proposed coal mines.

The Kenney government has fined an Alberta hunter $600 for making an anti-coal video, but the young man says he’s laughing.

Last October, Levi Williams-Whitney went for a gambol up Grassy Mountain just north of the town of Blairmore in Alberta’s historic Crowsnest Pass.

Much of the mountain is now owned by Benga Mining (Riversdale Resources), a firm purchased by Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart in 2019 for $700 million.

With the Kenney government’s blessings, Rinehart, an iron-ore magnate and Australia’s wealthiest woman, has proposed to reduce what is now the habitat of mountain sheep, trout and elk into a giant open-pit coal mine. (The mountain top removal project is under a joint federal-provincial review.)

Another bunch of Australian developers want to remove more than half a dozen other nearby mountains from the Rockies to also supply Asian steel markets. They, too, have the government’s enthusiastic support.

Williams-Whitney, an avid hunter and environmental student at the University of Lethbridge, wasn’t impressed with Rinehart’s plans, let alone the Alberta government’s red-carpet treatment for Australian coal miners.

“The video was my way to express some of my frustration and refine my thinking about the issues,” said Williams-Whitney who has hunted for elk in the eastern slopes for years.

So he drove an hour-and-a-half from his home in Lethbridge to the Crowsnest Pass, where underground coal mines, French coal barons and communist unions once dominated the region’s turbulent history some 100 years ago.

“It was spur of the moment. I didn’t really have a plan, but I found a road up the mountain and went for a tour.”

The gates on the road were all open, and Williams-Whitney drove in and parked. He took a long walk on the mountain. “It was just gorgeous.”

He later posted a three-minute video showing how beautiful the area remains despite a century of underground mining and all the trauma that coal economies inflict on people and the land alike.

The video titled A Hunter’s Perspective: Open Pit Coal Mining in Alberta highlighted the intractable problem of selenium pollution “that could jeopardize the very water that irrigates our crops and hydrates our cattle.”

He encouraged Albertans to phone their MLAs. That’s when Williams-Whitney got a call, he said.

An Alberta fish and wildlife officer informed him that “We’ve got a complaint that you have been trespassing.”

A few days later, the officer drove 90 minutes to Lethbridge to the hunter’s home to personally deliver the hefty $600 fine.

The friendly officer revealed that Benga Mining, the company owned by Rinehart, had pressed the complaint and wanted charges filed.

851px version of PendingMineSitesAlberta.jpg
Pending open-pit coal mining and exploration sites sought by Australian companies along the southeastern flank of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. Image via Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Contacted by The Tyee, Benga Mining confirmed the story. “The Grassy Mountain Road is on private land with openly posted No Trespassing signs,” said Jackie Woodman, interim manager public affairs.

“For the safety of the person trespassing, and for the safety and protection of our property, we maintain a strict policy of not allowing trespassing.”

The fish and wildlife officer also showed Williams-Whitney a 10-page file on his indiscretion, including photographs of his vehicle.

Williams-Whitney thought: “Well, that was an interesting move by the company.”

He said he laughed to himself as he imagined the Australian firm holding a querulous board meeting asking “what are we going to do about this Levi guy?”

He then posted a photograph of the trespassing fine on Facebook with this note: “Looks like my friends at Benga Mining Corporation saw the video as well and didn’t take too kindly to it. I’ve been charged for trespassing on private land. Which is fair, because I did drive up a previously publicly owned road (they left all of the gates open) and hiked up a previously publicly owned mountain.”

The hunter quickly watched his YouTube video jump to 10,000 views. “So more people got to see it,” he noted.

Several people offered to pay his fine, but Williams-Whitney, who takes full accountability for his actions, declined.

“This open-pit coal mining is so short-sighted and moves Alberta in the wrong direction,” he said.

As for the fine, the hunter is still chuckling about the giant boost it gave his video.

“If there hadn’t been a video, I bet I would have heard nothing about my walk,” said Williams-Whitney. “I think I was charged for the video under the name of trespassing.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics, Environment

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