April 5th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 14
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Logging and Habitat
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Contributor photos
Cut block in Upper Oldman River drainage- June 2013
BILLY KINNEAR
Op-Ed
Logging has been an important industry in the Crowsnest Pass since the 1800’s. Unfortunately, in recent years, it has been getting an undeserved bad reputation. It is time someone told the other side of the logging story. The majority of negative comments about logging come from a biased environmental community and from people who don’t understand how important logging is for reasons other than financial gain. Logging provides jobs which improves the economy, but more importantly, the clearings left behind when loggers move on provides habitat for the animals and plants, and these clearings also help to prevent rampant spread of wildfire.

It is important to keep in mind that, because of fire suppression, the majority of the forest in our area are over-mature and of the same age class. A healthy forest consists of trees that are of a varying age classes and a mixture of species. Logging helps to achieve this.

The dictionary defines habitat as “the place or region where plants or animals naturally survive”. Environmental activists attack logging by claiming that logging destroys habitat. Animals need the forest for protection from the elements and predators. But this is only a part of what animals need to survive; the other needs are food and water. Very few animals eat trees, except beavers. Animals get their nourishment from a diversity of grasses and scrubs that are found in open spaces, clearings and meadows. Unfortunately, because of the success of fire suppression, the amount of forest is increasing and clearings are decreasing – so there is more and more forest for shelter for animals, but fewer and fewer meadows for grazing. Before we interrupted the natural process, periodic fires removed trees allowing sunlight to reach the ground so that shrubs and grasses could flourish. Logging emulates fire on the landscape and cut blocks have become a necessary source for food for wild animals. Cut blocks are the circle of life without fire. If you wish to see what the landscape looked like before fire suppression go to the website mountainlegacy.ca and click on the photos of our area from the early 1900s. You can see for yourself how much the forest has encroached on the grass lands. The present forest that you see around the outer reaches of our communities is not a healthy forest. It is forests that we have seen standing for many years, and for most of us, what has always been there.

Logging practices have greatly improved over the years; they continue to evolve in favour of the environment. Logging companies have to follow strict rules and regulations, and are monitored by the government. Yes, the initial phases of logging causes unsightly changes to the landscape, but the grasses and plants grow back and then provide much needed nourishment for the animals, trees do not. Soon after logging operations have moved on, trees are either replanted or they begin to grow on their own and when the trees reach a certain height, they will cut off the sunlight to the other vegetation and you end up with another forest which provides cover for animals but not sustenance, a renewable resource.
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A few years ago, weekly letters appeared in the papers condemning the logging in Star Creek. These activists focused on one thing: water. They made dire claims intending to make readers believe that trout would be harmed by water runoff from the logging operation. Last year, I was fortunate enough to go on a tour with a few SRD staff to the back basins of Star Creek and had a good look at the logging that was done there. When I was a member of the group that was working on the 20 year C5 management plan revisions, I recommended, that some of the south or east facing hills in Star Creek be not replanted with trees to allow natural grass and shrubs to evolve. The reason I made this recommendation was for the benefit of an important area elk herd, because they need more grass and open areas to survive. I am 64 and in my life time I have seen how much the forest has choked out the clearings and reduced habitat, not only in Star Creek, but throughout the whole Crowsnest forest. The elk will benefit tremendously from this logging, as will the deer, moose, bears, and other large and smaller animals, including the predators. Sadly, you will never hear a favorable comment from those environmental activists, no matter how good the outcome is. They won’t tell you about the on-going joint study by the University of Alberta and the University of Waterloo in that very same Star Creek basin. This study has been evaluating the impacts of rapid harvest and haul road reclamation in terms of the potential for fine sediment production in three headwater streams. Their conclusion after the first year of study was that temporary stream crossings were not sources of sediment loading; no increase in turbidity, wash load or sediment were observed. In other words, the logging that was done in Star Creek has had no adverse effect on water quality or fish. Cut blocks are laid out to allow any run off water to filter through the landscape as much as possible before it reaches the creeks and this is monitored.

Logging has been happening on the landscape around the Crowsnest Pass for many, many years and yet the rivers around our community are still lauded as some of the best fishing in Canada. If the devastation that we saw after the 2013 flood didn’t wipe out the Eastern Cutthroat Trout, then a bit of water that gets past the protective measures put in place by loggers can’t possibly harm them to the extent that environmental activists claim. (Smoke and mirrors).

Let’s talk about rare plants. Environmental activists say that logging threatens rare plants. But what are these ‘rare’ plants? Rare plants are not necessarily threatened plants. Many times, rare plants are ‘rare’ because they have wound up growing somewhere they typically do not belong. So how did they get there in the first place? Well, I’ll tell you. A migrating bird or an animal is headed somewhere else for either the summer or the winter and happens to travel through our neck of the woods. While travelling, it decides to take a dump, and in the process, it deposits some seeds that came from God-knows-where. (These seeds have a good chance of catching hold since they come with their own manure). A while later, our local naturalist/activists finds what has developed from this seed, and says: “Oh my God! We have to kick everyone out and ban logging so this plant can be protected”. This is what is going on right now in the Castle area. Environmental activists will tell you that no rare plants will survive if logging or other forest uses are allowed.
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More importantly, rare plants are exceedingly difficult to identify properly. How many studies have been done and what confirmation is there that these plants are what they say they are? These plants probably don’t belong here and are probably doing just fine back where the seeds came from. If the plants don’t belong here and are not native to here, then they are an invasive species. If there are a few places where threatened, native rare plants do occur, then protect them and a small area around them; not the over 80 square kilometers of the entire region.

How quickly people forget that the fire of 2003 that could have very easily swept into town if it hadn’t been diverted on Ironstone Mountain. (Kudos to SRD). There is still a very real danger of wildfire entering our community because of the amount of forest that still surrounds us. (Think Fort McMurray). Many people do not know that while the 2003 Lost Creek fire threatened our community, another fire was raging approximately20 kilometers north of Coleman near Racehorse Creek. Furthermore, most people don’t know that SRD was able to stop the advancement of this fire because of a long and narrow cut block in its path. The lack of combustible material in the path of the fire, “the cut block”, slowed the advance of the fire which gave the firefighters the time needed to knock it down and put it out. I recall reading a statement made by Lorne Fitch a while back, where he commented that he didn’t think cut blocks where much of a deterrent to fires. Well this one was.

Our present Government has created a new provincial park and banned logging from Highway 3 to Waterton Park, sighting rare plants, impacts to water quality and habitat losses as the main reasons for why the park is needed. Meanwhile, other Parks in the province are struggling with managing forest encroachment, which is reducing habitat and the increasing threat of wildfire. They are reverting to controlled burns, which is deliberately setting fire to the forest to create open areas. Do you have any idea how much of a carbon foot print these fires create? This Government is so concerned with emissions that they introduce a new carbon tax, yet they allow the setting of huge dangerous fires to create openings when logging would accomplish the same thing while providing employment in a failing economy.

Looking south of Blairmore, people see the recent disturbance that logging has on the landscape and then they falsely assume that the environment has been permanently harmed. These changes are not permanent; they are transitional and follow the natural cycle of forest succession and regeneration. Be more patient. In a short time, these areas will green up again. You will still notice that the trees are gone, but that is not a bad thing as I have mentioned. They will also help keep the deer and bears out of the communities. And the evidence from the Universities of Alberta and Waterloo assures us that logging can occur without harming our streams. You never know, that cut block might save your home during the next wildfire season.

Environmental activists are always seeking any excuse, no matter how trivial, to get logging stopped and to get other users kicked out of the back country. They feed the media misconceptions and misleading doom and gloom over-statements about the effects we have on the environment, which uninformed people read and believe. Remember this; their hidden goal is Y to Y (Yellowstone to Yukon). We are located in the only gap in the long line of Parks and Protected areas in the Rocky Mountains, and it drives them crazy.

Financially backed and properly managed conservation practices are the answer, not protectionism to the point of exclusion. Albertans have the right to recreate and to utilize and benefit from resources, especially renewable ones.

I believe logging practices have improved greatly in my lifetime, and can be improved on still further, but it is a necessary disturbance on the landscape, and I am sure public pressure will ensure that future practices will work towards leaving a smaller imprint on the landscape.
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April 5th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 14
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