Riding in on horseback to the old family cabin is something Reata Schlosser has done more times than she can remember. Driving cattle to better grazing land, fishing in the Livingstone River of Southwestern Alberta and finding harmony with nature is how her family has lived for over 100 years.
The land may bear the names of Schlosser’s great-great-grandparents, but the land has shaped her even more so. At 20 years old, she is “fifth generation on the ranch.”
“It’s kind of like the heirloom that’s been passed down to us and makes you feel pretty protective of it,” she said.
Schlosser’s family is facing the end of the lifestyle they have lived for more than a century and the possible death of an industry in Southern Alberta. The water people in this area rely on for their cattle may be poisoned if a new open pit coal mine, currently under government review, goes ahead.
The Oldman River that winds through the Livingstone area is used for irrigation in farming, watering livestock, sustaining wildlife and drinking water for the city of Lethbridge.
Schlosser said she believes an open pit coal mine on Cabin Mountain will put all of this in jeopardy.
“It’s where all of our clean water comes from, and water is our most important resource anywhere in the world,” she said.
Knowing what is at stake for many in Southern Alberta, Schlosser’s grandparents and neighbours are fighting back.
The Schlossers have launched a legal battle against the provincial government while trying to get the public’s attention through public events and social media — all in an effort to protect the land, their cattle and way of life.
“A bunch of other neighbours and other Albertans are just trying to really get public awareness so that we can push back against the government,” Schlosser said.
Their campaign got a boost from Corb Lund, an award-winning country recording artist from Alberta, who hosted a concert and released a special song focused on why the land should not be mined.
Lund originally wrote This Is My Prairie about 12 years ago as a work of fiction.
“It’s strangely kind of come true because of this coal stuff. So, it occurred to me that I should maybe re-record it to draw attention to the issue,” Lund said.
Lund has done much more than record music on this issue, though. Since first hearing about the mining proposal, Lund has called MLAs and talked with ranchers, landowners and concerned citizens. All of Lund’s conversations are pointing to a trend that crosses political and cultural boundaries.
“Nobody wants this. Like, the rural people don’t want it, the urban people don’t want it, the First Nations people don’t want it,” Lund said. “You know, [Alberta’s New Democratic Party] voters certainly don’t want it. A lot of [United Conservative Party] voters don’t want it. Farmers don’t want it, ranchers don’t want it.”
As awareness grows, scholarly work has now gone into evaluating whether open pit coal mining would benefit Albertans. A report published by The School of Public Policy Publications from the University of Calgary in November 2021 concluded “the evidence strongly suggests that coal markets are on the long-term decline.”
“With so many environmental liabilities of coal mining development in a location so valued for its environmental and other qualities, it is hard to see the case for new coal development,” the report said.
Schlosser said her grandparents are trying to find out more information by filing a Freedom of Information request to get access to government information and records. The Government of Alberta, however, has delayed releasing the information, said Laura Laing, a rancher helping with the request.
“We got 30 pages of 6,000 to date, which was supposed to be due the first week of October. Ninety per cent of that is redacted. So, we’ve probably got a page and a half of text,” Laing said.
The frustrations have grown as Laing and her lawyer try to understand the situation without the necessary information.
The Coal Policy Committee struck to examine the issue submitted its reports to the province at the end of 2021. The province released their report last week (below), which recommended leaving a previous ban on coal mining and exploration.
Schlosser says water is a critical issue facing Southern Albertans and the risks need to be weighed against the benefits of coal mining.
“We have to protect our water and we have to protect that land because without that water, we don’t survive,” she says.
Lund adds the government needs to think about the bigger picture.
“I have to drink the water downstream and so do a hundred thousand other people in Lethbridge. So, we don’t owe you (the government) 200 mining jobs just so you can mess up our drinking water. No, thank you.”