Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Newfoundland landmines

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

Let’s begin today’s show on the highway.

Let’s take this show to the road around Manuals in Conception Bay South.

That’s apparently where Russell Wangersky, a columnist over at The Telegram, nearly ran into a moose on Memorial Day, July 1st, also known as Canada Day.

There are moose-vehicle collisions — or near collisions — just about every single day in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But it’s not everyday there’s a near moose collision with a driver who’s also a newspaper columnist.

Russell and his son were on their way back home last Thursday at about 5 p.m. — a light rain was falling, and he was driving under the speed limit by about 5 km.

A moose ran out of the ditch and Russell slammed on the brakes, just missing the animal.

Let me quote, Mr. Wangersky:

“I'm a firm believer in the power of words, but I'm not sure words can capture just how terrifying the experience actually was.”

I can’t imagine. I had a similar near miss almost 20 years ago on the Placentia highway; the experience is burned into my memory.

Russell writes there are two kinds of big-game lotteries in Newfoundland and Labrador:

One to see if you can get a licence to hunt moose.

The other to see if you can safely survive driving on the province’s roads, even under the recommended speed limits.

There are people who say there are ways to avoid hitting moose by cutting your speed and choosing driving times — not driving at night, for example.

But as Russell Wangersky points out, there’s no silver bullet that will keep you safe, and any suggestion that drivers are always to blame for moose-vehicle collisions is ridiculous.


As it writes: “There's got to be something that can be done: with more than 600 moose-vehicle collisions a year, the costs are far, far too high.”

I thought the number of moose-vehicle collisions was more like 400 — not 600 — but it’s still a hell of a lot.

There’s been debate for months and months about our moose population.

Some people say we should erect moose fencing, like they have in New Brunswick.

About 300 km of moose fencing, which has proven effective.

Between 2004 and 2008, there were 44 collisions between motorists and wildlife on Highway 7 between Fredericton and Saint John, N.B.

But, in 2009, after 53.8 km of fencing and five animal underpasses were installed, no collisions were reported.

Other people say there should be an all-out moose cull — there are just too many.

New Brunswick may have fencing, but they only have 30,000 moose.

Newfoundland and Labrador has up to 140,000 moose.

Which, in these parts, are also known as landmines.


There’s another story in the paper today about how the Save Our People Action Committee wants a better response from government on what to do about moose, a better response than just clearing brush and erecting signs.

The committee wants moose fencing where there are a high number of collisions.

If they don’t get it, well, they may plan a public protest at Confederation Building.

I know we’ve been talking about moose on our highways for a dog’s age.

But the problem hasn’t gone away.

The question remains: Qhat do we do about it?


From our highways to the track — the racing track.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether to build a motorcross track in Conception Bay South.

S and E Motorcross, which already sponsors races on Bell Island, wants to build a track on Minerals Road.

Some people are for it; other people don’t like the thought of the noise and traffic from the motorcross track in a residential area.

Now I believe it’s up to the CBS Town Council.

Are you for motorcross or ag’in?

I see in the story that motorcross is compared to any other sports — hockey or softball.

Do you agree?


On to the fishery.

I’ve done a fair bit of thinking since the announcement was made on Friday past about how the Danny Williams administration is stepping into federal jurisdiction by carrying out its own fish science.

$14 million worth.

My immediate reaction was one of praise, good news.

It’s fair to say the Government of Canada has failed in terms of management of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

For proof, look no further than the state of our groundfish stocks — cod and flounder.

Scientists want to have northern cod — the cod found off Newfoundland’s northeast coast and Labrador, the same cod that John Cabot scooped up with a bucket (it was that plentiful) — declared an endangered species.

So like most passionate Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, that upsets me.

The federal government's management of the fishery upsets me — infuriates me.

Some people say it’s been Confederation’s greatest failure.

I agree, that and the Upper Churchill fiasco.

Confederation’s two greatest failures.

But is it smart for the province to rush out and spend $14 million on fish science?

Are we using our heads?

Shouldn’t there be a review of federal science first, to see where it’s lacking?

Wouldn’t be that the smart thing to do?

Scientists — and I’m talking independent scientists here — have been talking about the need for a recovery plan for northern cod.

One of those scientists is Dr. Jeff Hutchings with Dalhouse University.

He’s also head of COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada).

Hutchings blew the whistle years ago on bureaucratic interference with the communication of research findings.

In fact, he won a whistle-blower award.

As scientists go, he sounds credible — and independent.

Although the FFAW has tagged him as just the opposite.

Dr. Hutchings says what we need is a recovery plan, which would include 4 elements:

1) Quantitative recovery targets.

2) Reference points on abundance, below which a stock must not decline.

3) A rebuilding time line.

4) Harvesting rules to control catch levels.

Stock recovery plans are in place in countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Northern Europe where commercial fish stocks have also collapsed.

Not here, though.

Hutchings says there’s no will in this country to turn Atlantic cod stocks around.

So now the province is doing its own fish science.

Let me ask you again: Is that the smart thing to do?


If cod were to be declared an endangered species it could impact the limited cod fishery we have.

It could impact other fisheries that take cod as a bycatch.

Or it might not.

Dr. Hutchings says those fisheries may be able to continue if cod is declared endangered.

Having cod declared an endangered species could impact oil exploration.

Oil companies might have to conduct studies to outline how their work would impact delicate cod stocks.

Are we willing to make sacrifices to turn the cod stocks around?


Speaking of oil exploration, I see how the Green Party wants a moratorium on oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The Green party is critical of the Canada/Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board for granting an exploration permit in what they see as an environmentally sensitive area.

Corridor Resources has a lease to explore for oil next to the Magdelen Islands, drilling in the next year or two.

Let me ask you this: Do you think that fish should take a backseat to oil?

Do you agree with drilling?

Should there should a moratorium?

God forbid if there’s a problem with the well — like the ongoing environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

Up to 60,000 barrels have been leaking into the sea since the April 22nd explosion.

There’s a story today about how the tar balls have reached the beaches in Texas, hundreds of kms from the leaking well.

Relief wells are being drilled to permanently cap the well, but it will probably be mid-August before that’s done.


Good news for Marine Atlantic customers.

Or is it?

Most people were anxious to hear what the federal Crown corporation’s big news conference was about Monday.

They thought maybe the new reservations system was going to be dumped.

Turns out that $36 million has been set aside for a new ferry terminal in North Sydney, N.S.

Questions have been raised about why North Sydney got the new terminal — as opposed to Argentia or Port aux Basques.

What do you think?


Moving on to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

People in the town are worried because a multiple sex offender is living among them.

His name is Hector Jesso, and he’s been permanently placed on the national Sex Offender Registry.

A Facebook page has been started in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to let people know that Jesso — who has past convictions of sexual assault — had moved onto a street in the MOT (Ministry of Transport) area.

In less than a day, that Facebook group had more than 600 members.

The consensus was that people were not happy to learn of Jesso's presence in the community.

Women are worried.

Women are living in fear.

Is that fair?


Moving onto St. Anthony.

There’s a report in the Northern Pen that not only did then-Health Minister Paul Oram discount the idea of moving the air ambulance from St. Anthony last September, he planned to establish a second team of medical flight specialists in the community.

All Oram was supposedly waiting for was funding approval.

The Northern Pen got the information from minutes of a meeting between officials of the Health Department, Labrador-Grenfell Health, Eastern Health, and the Department of Transportation and Works.

The meeting addressed various issues, including moving the aircraft from St. Anthony to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

They decided against it at the time.

The minutes go on to say the Health minister "supports the placement of a second team of medical flight specialists in St. Anthony (and) is awaiting approval for funding to proceed."

Just six months later, the government flip-flopped on those plans and announced its intention to move the air ambulance service to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO Boyd Rowe couldn’t be reached for an interview.

Current Health Minister Jerome Kennedy also declined to speak to the Northern Pen.

Keep in mind St. Anthony claimed the move was political revenge after the Conservatives' loss in the October 2009 byelection.

Does this new evidence support that?


Finally, for now, I mentioned last week how the south coast community of Grand Bruit is relocating this summer.

The outport is shutting down.

I saw a quote from Grand Bruit resident Cynthia Billard, who’s packing up this summer.

She says the experience is heartbreaking, and it’s the little things that get to you.

Little things like a package of candles.

Let me quote here: "When I pulled them out and looked at the birthday candles … just like that, it was like a floodgate. I realized that there'd be no more birthdays in Grand Bruit."

No more birthdays in Grand Bruit.

The Backtalk lines are open.

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