Cochrane-based Spray Lakes Sawmills is once again battling with locals over two plans for logging in southern Alberta.

A number of year-round trails near Bragg Creek could be axed by a logging plan from the company, which says it is part of the provincial government’s plan to clear away trees to prevent wildfires.

Peter Tucker with Sustain Kananaskis says the plan is to clearcut seven kilometres of trees.

'We'll do our best to make sure we have a class-act operation down there.'— Spray Lake Sawmills woodland manager Gord Lehn

That would affect 19 out of the 21 trails that are used for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Tucker says groups are trying to convince the logging company to preserve the trails. He said all they really want is for people to have a say in the use of their public resources.

"If you want to keep a buffer around a trail, given the open forest that we have in Alberta, the buffer has to be, oh, around 100 metres on either side of the trail if you don't actually want to see the damage that's done by the clearcutting," he said.

Tucker says although a public presentation is scheduled for Jan. 26 at the Bragg Creek Community Centre from 3-7 p.m., recreation groups want real public input on changing the plans.

Sawmill faces another fight

An environmental battle is also underway in the southwest corner of Alberta. Commercial logging is set to get underway in the Castle area for the first time in more than 10 years after approval from the provincial government's Sustainable Resource Development (SRD).

The Castle Special Management area is located south of the Crowsnest Pass in the western corner of the province.

Environmentalists say it will damage a key watershed area. Gordon Petersen, president of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition, calls it frustrating.

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On Thursday morning, local residents went to the area where the logging is about to begin to find flagging tape marking the cut block boundaries. (Courtesy Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition)

On Thursday morning, local residents went to the area where the logging is about to begin and found the parking area cleared to accommodate Spray Lake Sawmills’ logging equipment, and flagging tape marking the cut block boundaries.

"It’s unbelievable that SRD still insists on this uneconomical logging in a matchstick forest despite public opinion polls that show that more than three quarters of regional residents are opposed to the logging," said Petersen. "And despite the thousands of opposition e-mails, five rallies and protests across Southern Alberta, and the hundreds of letters and phone calls the government has received. Is there simply no way to influence government decisions?" 

Experts on grizzly bears have also spoken out against the logging, citing irreversible effects on ecosystem function and wildlife habitat quality.

In spite of all campaigns, they were told just before Christmas Spray Lakes Sawmills will start work this month.

"We’re really talking about democracy here, or lack thereof," said Petersen. "SRD is putting the interests of a private company, as well as its own institutional interests, ahead of the public good. Clearly the majority of the public is against logging in the Castle, but SRD has been completely deaf to these concerns."

Spray Lake Sawmills says it is listening to local concerns.

Crowsnest Pass

"We'll do our best to make sure we have a class-act operation down there and that people can see that it's not going to be the end of the world with respect to landscape aesthetics, watershed or wildlife," said Gord Lehn, Spray Lake’s woodland manager.

Lehn says the company has decided to cut half of what it planned this year in response to community concerns.

Petersen says he's hoping the premier will step in, but says regardless the fight is not over.

"We are appealing to the premier to step in and stop the logging. Premier Redford has said that politics is changing in Alberta," he said. "Now she has an opportunity to demonstrate that the Conservative government is really listening to Albertans and what they want for their public lands. It’s time to put an end to this folly. Stop the logging in the Castle, and permanently protect this special place once and for all."

Lehn says Spray Lakes Sawmills is not providing the specific start date.