January 21st, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 3
Canfor pulls plug on
Star Creek logging in the Pass
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald Contributor photo
A logging truck carrying Star Creek lumber leaves the Star Creek valley and, passing Girardi Creek, prepares to leave the Girardi Creek watershed at the Travel Alberta Information Centre. Both named streams are home to pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout, a threatened species. The lumber, leaving Alberta, is destined for Canfor's Elko, BC mill.
Pass Herald Reporter
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s (ESRD) forestry division insists everything’s okay with the plan to log the Star Creek basin but Canfor, the company hired to complete the controversial project, has halted operation due to regulatory concerns.
A source close to the Herald confirmed the company suspended all road construction and bridge installation as of Jan. 14, though some of the 168-hectare area slated for harvesting has already been logged.
Corinne Stavness, Canfor’s director of Public Affairs and Responsibility, confirms the company has temporarily halted operations.
“We [are] seeking clarification from the Government of Alberta on a couple of points, and deferred our operations until we have answers to those questions.”
ESRD forestry division and the University of Alberta were undertaking the project to test different harvesting approaches and their effects on watersheds.
Local residents and scientists opposed the project due to environmental concerns.
Fisheries biologist Lorne Fitch says the 10-kilometre haul road rebuilt in December into the logging site from Travel Alberta’s information centre violates the Alberta Westslope Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan.
The road crosses Girardi Creek before entering the Star Creek valley. Both streams are home to the threatened pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout.
“I would hope that the forestry service recognizes that they have a legal, if not a moral, obligation to follow the terms and conditions of a recovery strategy for a threatened species,” says Fitch.
The recovery plan says that new roads cannot be built closer than 100 metres from streams containing westslope cutthroat. All the tributary streams must be treated the same way and none of these streams can be bridged.
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“At best they’re providing a 30 metre buffer and at worst a 10 meter buffer,” says Fitch. “Part of the logging plan has stream crossings.”
“This is perplexing because the cutthroat strategy was a document undertaken by the provincial government,” says Fitch. “It had many provincial government representatives as part of the team. It was supported and endorsed by the provincial government and yet I don’t think the forestry service has any intention of following the terms and conditions of it.”
ESRD's Fish & Wildlife division has done a fisheries inventory and confirmed that westslope cutthroat trout live within the area being logged. However, ESRD's forestry division has not afforded them protection as required by the recovery program for the species.
“Even if the forest service and U of A hadn’t picked up the phone to call Fish & Wildlife at the very least they should have done their own due diligence and done their own fisheries inventory but apparently they did neither,” says Fitch.
Duncan MacDonnell, public affairs officer for ESRD, says the logging road, which follows a pipeline right of way, was constructed long before westslope cutthroat were in such dire straits.
“That access road has been in place for 40 years and the rules are, you use that wherever possible,” says MacDonnell. “It’s a long term existing trail and the standards for that road are what they were when the road was built and it was in place long before any testing for fish occurred.”
MacDonnell also says the project is following all established regulations.
“My guys tell me there is no threat there to any fish. It’s fine,” he says. “This is an unusual situation because of that existing road. The bottom line of that is what would you prefer? A minimal intrusion using an existing road or putting in a whole new road?”
Construction of the road began about mid December. The harvest was slated for completion by early March and road reclamation was scheduled for this summer. By January 2016 burning of debris piles was to take place.
After touring the logging area last month, local scientist David McIntyre says he saw muddy water being channeled into Girardi Creek at two different points.
"What's amazing," adds McIntyre," is that the government's myopic attempts to log a forest of tiny trees is taking place on a largely unstudied and unknown landscape, in terms of its biological and ecological worth. Even more astoundingly, the harvest violates the government's own operating ground rules in terms of setbacks, as defined by the Water Act Code. In other words, the government, in addition to walking all over threatened trout, is violating its own Water Act regulations."
"ESRD Forestry Division has opened the door and exposed itself to possible litigation on several fronts. Whether or not some component of society has the capacity to pursue this in court remains unclear, but I would hope it happens," says McIntyre.
January 21st ~ Vol. 85 No. 3
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