Foothills-area residents opposed to logging plans in the Highwood Junction area were disappointed to hear work began this week despite efforts to have it postponed.
Balcaen Consolidated Contracting began work Nov. 18 to harvest 46,800 cubic metres of timber from 255.3 hectares of land by March.
It came as a blow to recreational groups and other stakeholders, including an outfitting group and a trapper operating out of the Highwood Junction region, who asked the process be delayed to allow for more consultation and a review of the logging plans.
Groups like Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood, which was derived from a Black Diamond-based hiking group, have been petitioning the provincial government since April to reconsider the logging plan and move work away from major tourism corridors near Highwood Junction.
Neil Williams, spokesperson for Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood, said the lack action is disappointing and doesn’t mean they’re going to stop advocating for changes.
“We can always hope, and we’ll keep trying,” said Williams. “That’s about all we can do right now, is continue hoping for some reasonable solution.”
He said the group isn’t fighting for a moratorium on logging, which he said would be unreasonable. Members would like to see the Highwood Junction area protected.
Williams said letters from individuals, groups and organizations, and even municipalities like the Towns of Okotoks, High River, Black Diamond and Turner Valley, and the MD of Foothills, haven’t made any difference to the Province. He said Minister Oneil Carlier continues to support the logging efforts, stating they’re being managed and monitored appropriately.
“I don’t think he understands, or does he even want to understand?” said Williams. “He’s just looking at it through blinders and doesn’t care.”
He said the impact is on more than just a few trees. Excessive logging in the well-used area could affect tourism, aesthetics, economic development, user groups and small businesses, he said.
There is another petition with 2,500 signatures going to the provincial government, and Williams said he’s also penning another letter to the premier to express his disappointment in the government for not stepping up and listening to Albertans.
“All we want to do is protect this little area, and the headwaters,” said Williams. “I think it’s vital that it remain somewhat untouched. It won’t be the same when it’s all taken out.”
Trapper Justin Sjogren said the news was devastating.
“You see how many people have raised their opinion and how strong the voice is that they just need to take a pause and re-evaluate, and the fact that the government ignores that, I think it speaks volumes,” said Sjogren. “It’s pretty disappointing.”
He said there has been very little change to the logging plans since they were first released, despite public consultation.
During consultations, Sjogren said he indicated sensitive and critical areas should remain intact for the sake of wildlife and tourism, but to no avail. The main area was at Highwood Junction, near the Highwood River, he said.
“It’s the busiest thoroughfare for wildlife and they’re taking all the habitat,” said Sjogren. “They’re creating open spaces instead of treed spaces.”
He said he hopes the petition carries some weight when it arrives at the legislature, but he’s not holding his breath. Consultation has been lacking and the government hasn’t batted an eye, he said.
Although efforts were made to connect with the public, Sjogren said it seemed as though it was a means of checking a box rather than an exchange of input and information.
“It wasn’t, ‘We’re asking what you think.’ Consultation meant they were telling us what they were doing and they weren’t going to change it,” he said. “They haven’t done enough.”
Keith Ebbs, forestry and environment co-ordinator for CCI Solutions Inc., contractors for logging company Balcaen Consolidated Contracting out of B.C., disagreed. He said public consultation was thorough and resulted in logging being delayed and some changes to the original plans.
“There have been modifications on block boundaries, timber retention patches and access based on an extensive amount of public and stakeholder input and Government of Alberta recommendations,” said Ebbs.
He said changes included moving an old logging road access east of Etherington Creek, increasing watershed buffers in the western portion of the logging area, maintaining a larger tree buffer around Sjogren’s cabin and maintaining trapping trails, and to reclaim the winter roads and accesses during the logging period.
In addition, he said CCI is committed to monitoring water quality and turbidity during logging operations to mitigate concerns about watershed impacts.
“The commitment was made to install water turbidity monitors for the duration of logging and stream crossing activities,” said Ebbs.
Though there has been criticism logging will affect watershed in the area, Ebbs said the buffers will protect area rivers, and bridges and culverts will be installed to ensure streams can be crossed safely and without impact on water.
He said the entire timber harvest will be managed carefully and is necessary for the health of the forest at Highwood Junction.
“Logging and subsequent replanting renews an aging forest,” said Ebbs. “It reduces opportunities for forest pathogens and insect infections that are common in over-mature forests.”
He said harvest areas are designed to mimic wildfire patterns.
Balcaen intends to replant the entire harvest area with 350,000 pine and spruce seedlings through 2019, he said.