A couple who won an environmental stewardship award in 2012 for the management of their Peace River-area ranch has been publicly ordered by the province to restore unauthorized changes to Crown land they once used for grazing.
Christoph Weder and Erka Weder-Bueschi say the work in question was done after they sold their ranch, and they accuse the government of tarnishing their reputation.
Alberta Environment and Parks sent out a media release Monday saying the couple had been ordered to remediate the Crown land near Rycroft, Alta., "after an inspection uncovered unauthorized trails and other disturbances."
"The ridiculous part about this is, the government knows that we did not do any of those things on that lease," said Weder.
"The lease was sold. This is the new guy on there. The new guy admits that he did it. Yet our name is being put out in a press release getting slandered that we did deviations on public land in Alberta."
Documents show Weder transferred in April 2015 about 3,000 acres of land on the banks of the Peace River, where he ranched for more than a decade. He said he was told "it would take awhile for the paperwork to go through."
But four weeks ago, Weder said he again called to find out when the transfer of Spirit View Ranch would be finalized. He was shocked to discover he was being told to remediate the land.
Weder said he phoned the ministry and suggested ways to remedy the situation. On Monday the department issued the media release.
'Someone in government is out to get us'
"Why would a press release need to be done on this?" Weder asked. "Seems like someone in government is out to get us."
Weder and his wife began ranching in the Peace River area in 2002. They earned an international reputation for their beef, raised in an environmentally friendly fashion.
A decade later, their work and innovation was recognized by the Alberta Beef Producers' environmental stewardship award.
In 2015, they sold Spirit View and moved across the border to British Columbia for another ranching opportunity.
Weder said he doesn't understand why nearly a year has gone by without the paperwork being processed.
In the meantime, Weder said he didn't want to stand in the way of the new owner, who has paid for the ranch and made an economic return on his investment.
Weder agreed to sublease the land and signed off on the new owner's plans to create new trails to better distribute the cattle and reduce overgrazing.
"I had to sign a document that was sent to me by the government, so he could go forward and do this," Weder said. "And I got requested twice by government to sign this, so obviously that's why I signed it."
But the agreed-upon plan was ditched for a less costly option that created trails considered too wide, Weder said.
Weder said the new owner is willing to take responsibility. CBC News could not reach the owner.
"Hopefully someone in government has some common sense and sees we can do it this way and get this transferred," Weder said. "Let the other guy take responsibility, take our name off the title and we'll go on our merry way."
Weder said he was told the land transfer would not be finalized until the situation is resolved.
According to the media release, Weder and his wife are now expected to submit a reclamation plan and later a written report summarizing the remedial work undertaken.
"I have other things to do," Weder said from Hudson's Hope, B.C., where he and his wife now run Venator Ranches.
"No one's going to pay for my time and effort, the stress. And now on top of this I do consulting, and other things. And my name being slandered out there by government is just ridiculous. Especially after you win an award for environmental stewardship."
The province said it will respond to Weder`s comments on Wednesday.