Businesses cry foul over foothills clear-cut plans

Tourism and recreation businesses want the provincial government to cancel plans for clear-cut logging in the foothills of southwestern Alberta.
Local businesses want the provincial government to cancel plans for clear-cut logging in the foothills of southwestern Alberta. ((CBC))

Planned clear-cut logging in a picturesque patch of the southwestern Alberta foothills has raised the ire of local business and tourist operators.

Nearly two dozen of them worry that cutting down trees in the Castle Special Management Area to the north of Waterton Lakes National Park will scare away visitors.

"It will be a long-term effect on people like us around here — the hotels, the gas stations, the restaurants and the accommodations — to the tune ... of 20 to 30 per cent," said Jacques Thoulin, who runs a general store in Castle Mountain.

"Three years ago they had a fire ban in our area for two months and our business decreased by 54 per cent.

"If they clear cut ... that is quite relevant. We feel once the campers see the devastation, they're not going to come back. They're going to go somewhere else."

Vic Bergman, who owns the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop and Guide Service in Bellevue, said he is concerned from both a personal point of view and as a businessman. He said it's the beauty of the area that attracts visitors.

"It's just the aesthetics, basically. People, when they come here, don't really want to be looking at clear-cut logging," he said.

"I'm hoping they have a change of heart, for sure. I think anybody who is involved in this is hoping that. And the more people who know about it, hopefully the government will listen, but that's to be seen."

Never a protected area: SRD spokesman

The group says the Castle Mountain area, roughly half the size of Banff National Park, was protected back in 1998, but an official with Sustainable Resource Development said that's not the case.  

"The Castle area was nominated for special places designation, but the local committee turned it down. It has never been a protected area," said Duncan MacDonnell.

"There was a sense among the local residents that, because it had been an historic multi-use area, the locals said, 'We don't want restrictions here.'"

MacDonnell said logging would only be allowed on a limited basis, much as it has been over the last 100 years. Two-thirds of the Castle area is off limits and the amount of timber to be harvested is less than one per cent per year for the next 20 years, he said.

Pine beetles nearby, but no infestation

The group believes that the government wants to log the area because of a risk that it will be infested by the tree-killing mountain pine beetle, but it notes that the bugs have not been a problem there.

MacDonnell said cutting down some old-growth pine trees is part of a forest management plan.

"Older pine are more susceptible to fire and insect attack. As for the mountain pine beetles, what about next year?" he said.

"There's significant beetle infestation on the other side of the border in southeastern B.C. We've been very fortunate there has been no influx into southwestern Alberta, but we're going to live with that threat for years."