November 1st, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. ###
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Clear-cut logging plans in Kananaskis: go or no?
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Stock photo
ANNA KROUPINA
Pass Herald Reporter
Environmental groups, businesses and residents have appealed to the government to put a moratorium on the clear-cut logging plans in the Upper Highwood of Kananaskis.

Balcaen Consolidated Contracting Ltd., based in British Columbia, has a five-year commercial timber license for a 430-hectare quota (4.3km²) right by the Highwood Junction Provincial Recreation Area, where Highways 940, 40 and 541 intersect. The harvest, which was announced earlier this summer, is planned to begin in 2017 and the remaining logging to continue into the following year. The timber would be shipped to and processed at Canfor Forest Products’ sawmill in Elko, B.C.

This overall harvest area is about 1% of the entire watershed on the Highwood River. At this time, Balcaen is awaiting permits before any type of construction or logging can begin.

The harvest area is part of the Spray Lake Sawmills Ltd. (SLS) Forest Management Agreement (FMA) with the Alberta government. Within that broader FMA, there are embedded quota holders, such as Balcaen, that have their own tenure arrangements with the government.

Concerns of the clear-cut logging plan range from visual impacts on the landscape, the risk to the biodiversity of the region and damage to headwaters, which may lead to erosion, soil compaction, flooding and siltation.

Various environmental groups have sent letters to the Government of Alberta calling to halt the logging in the Highwood Junction. The greatest concern, however, is not with the timber harvest in general terms, but rather the industrial scale clear-cutting approach specifically. They are calling on more consultation and communication on what sustainable logging means in K-Country.
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“The specific challenge that Y2Y has with logging in the Upper Highwood is not so much with the individual plan of the logging company, but the fact that Albertans haven’t had a conversation on whether there should be logging and how it should be done in Kananaskis Country. It’s time to have that conversation,” says Stephen Legault, program director for Crown, Alberta and Northwest Territories with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y).

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has sent a letter on September 25 calling on the government to develop appropriate logging plans that do not degrade from other forest activities and to be more transparent and accountable to the public.

“The letter called for a number of things, the basic premise being that with all these values that forests provide, there needs to be a focus on maintaining those values over timber, things like clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities. There needs to be a conversation saying, ‘What should this forest be managed for?’ rather than, ‘What do you think of this logging plan that is going to happen?’ A comprehensive sampling of stakeholders needs to be involved in this discussion,” says AWA conservation specialist Nick Pink.

According to Keith Ebbs, silviculture coordinator with CCI Inc., logging plans in the Upper Highwood were initially discussed at an open house in 2006, which was part of Spray Lakes’ consultation for the FMA. As a quota holder embedded within the Spray Lake FMA, CCI is required to notify immediate stakeholders, but they are not obliged to hold open houses.

A small group of hikers who love adventuring around the Kananaskis area are “taking a stand” for the region where they love to play and have been appealing to directly affected municipalities to send a letter to the Alberta Government calling for a halt to clear cut logging in the Highwood Junction.
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They have started a Facebook page called “Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood” and have created a petition calling on Premier Rachel Notley and Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips to stop logging in the Upper Highwood.

“That’s a place where we go hiking a lot and enjoy the beautiful countryside. We’re trying to change what the plans are or put a moratorium on them to discuss whether it’s the best thing in this area,” says hiker and Turner Valley resident Mady Thiel-Kopstein, a member of the group that started Take a Stand for Kananaskis and the Upper Highwood.

Numerous businesses from affected municipalities have also written letters to government expressing their concern that the bald landscape would have a significant and negative effect on tourism and asked that plans be delayed.

Thiel-Kopstein stresses that the group is not against logging; they are against the clear-cut logging approach.

“It’s an old fashioned idea, in our mind. We’re hoping we can protect more areas and wild lands, but under a new vision with more selective logging that is friendlier to multiple users,” she says.

The group has presented as a delegation to municipalities directly affected by the logging, which prompted High River, Black Diamond, Longview, Turner Valley and Okotoks to send a letter to the Alberta government asking for a moratorium on the logging in the Upper Highwood River.

Some time after, some of these Councils received a delegation by professional service provider for forestry operations CCI Inc. after which some of their concerns were mitigated following the presentation. CCI Inc. is the consulting firm hired to ensure that the annual operating plan for harvest in the Upper Highwood is done to the provincial ground rule standards, responsible for the logistics of the logging project, from road construction, signage to culvert placement and ensuring that reforestation is done to provincial standards.

“We are not anti-logging or pro-logging.
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We are more concerned with the headwaters of the Highwood Rivers and protecting it. That seemed to be alleviated somewhat with the presentation that we were given [by CCI Inc.]. We will keep an eye on it and what’s happening, but they seem to have it under control as far as working away from the water, and they have all types of rules to follow,” said Kathie Wight, Mayor of the Village of Longview.

Mayor of Okotoks Bill Robertson says that the town’s Council still has concerns with the view of the bald landscape from Highway 40 and the impacts to the watershed as a result of the clear-cut logging in particular.

“We understand that forestry provides many jobs for Albertans. We don't want to shut down forestry in this area, but we would like them to use more common sense. We agree with forestry, but we thought that clear-cut foresting adjacent to a tourist highway was the wrong way to go,” says Mayor Robertson.

According to Heather Thomson, Manager of Legislative Services with the Town of Turner Valley, Council was “very happy” with CCI’s presentation. Charlene Brown, CAO with the Town of Black Diamond, confirmed that Council heard a delegation by CCI, but they did not reevaluate or discuss their viewpoints following the presentation. High River and Okotoks indicated that they had not heard a delegation by CCI.

Malte Weller is a Senior Planning Forester/GIS Specialist with CCI and he sees major concerns with selective logging in the Upper Highwood Area, stating that while a great tool to manage forests, selective logging does not work well in an even-aged pine forest such as in the Upper Highwood, which is made up of even-aged lodgepole pines that are of a mature to over-mature age.

Without a regeneration of the aging lodgepole pine forest, says Weller, it could lead to a change in species composition to a different type of forest altogether. Lodgepole pine requires a tremendous amount of light and will not regenerate under an existing canopy.
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“That is why, if you leave this forest the way it is, only spruce or fir will regenerate under the canopy. In order to recreate a pine forest, you need to remove that forest. Otherwise, the pine forest cannot reestablish in that area,” he says, adding that a change in the forest tree genetics will have an adverse effect on the wildlife living in that area.

Clear-cut logging, he says, “is our only tool left to manage the forests because we cannot use fire anymore because the fire hazard is too high. We have not burned this forest in over 100 years, basically since the Phillips fire in this specific area, and there is a huge accumulation of material biomass that would just be an explosive fire.”

The Town of High River expressed serious concerns with regard to the risk for flooding as a result of clear-cut logging. High River was severely affected by flooding in June 2013.

Regarding concerns to the watershed, Weller cited research from professor and hydrologist John Pomeroy at the University of Saskatchewan who found that surface runoff is a factor of rain on snow events during the June rain season. One of key items that he found was that, rain, whether it falls on forest or a cut block, basically has the same runoff properties and does not induce flooding in clear-cut forest areas.

“What we need to have for that to happen is a heavy snow pack in the mountains, and then rain falling on that during the heavy rain season in early- to mid-June, melting those snows rapidly and running down the river systems. The areas where we are proposing logging operations, there is no snow holdover happening because it is too low in elevation. Snow pack is melted already in those areas by early April, so there is no chance that rain or snow events can take place there,” he says.

No harvest activities are proposed in any of the lower tree line areas associated with the floodplains of rivers and different-sized buffers are mandated for all streams and water courses within an operating area.

As far as reclamation goes, seeds from that specific geography have been picked to ensure the retention of local genetics, and are stored in the provincial seed storage freezer in Smoky Lake. New trees will be hand-planted to a density that will meet provincial standards.

Although Balcaen is proposing the logging to be completed in one to two years, they have a five-year quota for timber harvest, which Y2Y’s Legault says is more than enough time to put a halt on the operations right now to allow for meaningful conversation around the best way to manage the forest spaces in K-Country.
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“To me, it feels like they’re racing against time, like there’s an awful rush to get this done,” he says. “They know that the sentiment of Albertans is changing about these issues. We know that the vast majority of the people in the region would like to see this landscape protected and they are not aware that these challenges exist. As we continue to raise the concerns, it seems that the logging companies are racing to cut while they still can.”

Weller, however, points out that completing the harvest sooner will allow for the areas to get reforested faster.

“Overall, there is less of an impact to the environment if operations go in and out fast,” he says.

Addressing concerns of the bald landscape as a result of the clear-cutting, Ed Kulcsar, VP Woodlands with Spray Lake, says that multi-use management, industry and recreation can “definitely” coexist, citing areas of the forest in Kananaskis Country that have been harvested, and yet the recreational use of those trails have actually increase by 2.5 times since the harvest. Many of the trails that the hiking groups use up there are from the old logging trails.

“I’m not saying that the harvest was the reason for the increase, but certainly the fact that there was timber harvesting did not diminish the value of the area for recreational use and for those trails,” he says. “This occurs on 30% of the landscape. If you’re talking about eco-tourism, there is an opportunity for them to coexist. They are not mutually exclusive uses, but if there is a segment of users who don’t want to see any kind of commercial or industrial activity, there is still 70% of the forest that is under Parks and Protected Areas that they can go to and not see any industrial areas. With regard to the area of concern in the Highwood, they can literally drive five minutes up the road and be in the Parks and Protected Areas where they won’t see the activity.”
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Ebbs adds that using a software program that displays the visual impacts of the logging, CCI has recognized some of the concerns for the public in terms of aesthetics and added structure retention patches that mitigate those concerns.

The history of the Upper Highwood has seen much logging since the early 1900s, which continued until about 1936 at the time of the Phillips Fire.

According to Kulcsar, timber plans for K-Country were determined as part of the multi-year and multi-stakeholder South Saskatchewan Regional Planning (SSRP) process approved in 2014 and amended in February 2017 to accommodate the newly instated Castle Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park. Under Spray Lake’s current Forest Management Area plan, 70% of the Forest Reserve is considered protected land and only 30% is harvestable for timber. Balcaen’s harvest plans fall into the 30% area that was vetted through the SSRP process and determined to be appropriate for mixed-use management.

Kulcsar says that Spray Lake models out a harvesting and reforestation plan looking ahead 200 years to determine what the sustainable harvest level is. They reopen the discussion on the FMA every 10 years to ensure that the original plan is still sustainable over the long term.

“Whether it’s a small quota holder or Spray Lake Sawmills operating on the landscape, we operate in Alberta under a very extensive regulatory system,” he says. “There’s the Forest Act, Timber Management Regulations, the Water Act, the operating ground rules… There is a very extensive regulatory system that the forest industry has to follow we all have to follow the same rules.”

The FMA doesn’t sit well with Thiel-Kopstein. She expresses her concern that loggers devised the harvesting plan.

“The unfortunate thing is that the government asked the logging company to manage their forest themselves. Of course they’ll manage it in a way that’s going to be beneficial to what they’re doing. There’s not enough manpower from Forestry to keep an eye on everything in the province that’s being done,” she says.

According to Brock Mulling, communications director with the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA), forestry is a $5.5 billion industry in Alberta, the third largest after oil and gas, and agriculture.

“They’re important to our economy. There are about 90,000 people who work directly for forest companies in Alberta and another 38,000 people who receive employment from some type of spinoff activity, like consulting services, hospitality or road building,” he says.

The AFPA represents about 45 forestry companies across the province, both at the facility level and through some of their land-based operations.
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November 1st, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. ###
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