Plans to log in Kananaskis rile locals, environmental groups

A forested area in the south end of Kananaskis Country in Alberta is slated for logging this winter, prompting some nearby residents and environmental organizations to fight the plan.

Cuts planned near the provincial Etherington Creek campground, southwest of Calgary

The view from Hells Ridge at the mountains to the west. Logging is slated to happen in the area. (Neil Williams)

A forested area in the south end of Kananaskis Country in Alberta is slated for logging this winter, prompting some nearby residents and environmental organizations to fight the plan.

The group, called Take a Stand for Upper Highwood, is concerned about logging plans for about 450 hectares in an area known as Highwood Junction.

"We hike out there quite often and over the winter we noticed some flagging that had happened," Black Diamond resident Neil Williams told the Calgary Eyeopener. "A trapper in that area told us it was for logging to happen in 2017 and we decided to get involved."

Popular with hikers

The area slated for logging is roughly where Highways 40 meets Highways 541 and 940, near the provincial Etherington Creek campground, southwest of Calgary.

The trees date as far back as 1881 and the area is popular with people who hike, fish and horseback ride. It's teeming with wildlife, including bears, cougars, big horn sheep and birds, Williams said.

"It is a critical wildlife corridor according to Alberta Parks and Environment and …we think it is very important to tourism and to protect the watershed in the area, the Highwood River and all the other creeks that drain into it," Williams said.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative have joined the fight.

Take a Stand for Upper Highwood is lobbying provincial politicians — and have the support of Liberal MLA David Swann — as well as local municipal councils.

"It's good for our little towns, for economic development to protect that area. It's just more reasonable than having a one-time harvest and have all that timber shipped off to [a mill in] B.C. rather than having it as a beautiful tourist destination," said Williams. 

A map showing the proposed logging area, known as Upper Highwood or Highwood Junction. (Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood/Facebook)

Less than one percent of watershed logged

The area being logged over the next year and a half represents less than 0.2 percent of the Highwood River watershed, said Keith Ebbs, forestry and environment coordinator, with CCI Inc., the company that has been hired by B.C.-based Balcaen Consolidated Contracting to navigate regulatory approvals in Alberta.

Traditional trails for hikers and trappers will be maintained and measures will be taken to protect potentially pure-strain cutthroat trout in Baril Creek.

"We are also restricting access by signs and gating to reduce human/wildlife interaction and disturbance to the wildlife," said Ebbs in a statement.

Because it's mostly lodgepole pine, the forest is not suitable for partial harvest, said Ebbs. The logging will generate timber revenues for the province and some jobs, he said.

"The ecological benefits of timber harvest are often overlooked and these include healthier forests."

Monitoring the situation, says minister

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Oneil Carlier says the province continually monitors harvest operations to ensure companies meet the standards under which they were approved.

"Our government is committed to protecting and improving the things that make a difference in Albertans' lives, including the protection of land and water," he said in a statement.

"We continue to work to ensure a thoughtful and sustainable approach to forest management that balances the economic, social, and environmental needs of our communities in the Kananaskis region and across the province."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener