Opposition to clear-cut logging plans in the Highwood Junction area ramped up after access roads and a temporary bridge were constructed last week.
In November, the Province gave the green light to B.C.-based Balcaen Consolidated Contracting Ltd. to log 255 hectares near the intersection of Highway 40 and Secondary Highway 541.
The logging will take place over the next two years.
A temporary road was constructed and a bridge put in place over the Highwood River to provide access to logging areas on the south side of the river.
The logging plans resulted in vocal opposition from many sources, from businesses and municipalities to recreation users and conservationists.
They don’t plan to sit quietly as work begins, said Neil Williams, spokesperson for Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood.
“Since last March, we’ve been trying to get a resolution not to have logging done at the Highwood Junction and along the Highwood River, but that falls on deaf ears,” he said.
Members of the group want to see the Highwood Junction area protected against logging.
As opposition to the plan grew last year, the Towns of Okotoks, High River, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Longview all wrote letters to the Province last year expressing concerns with the plan.
Concerns include impacts on watershed areas, tourism, business, recreation users and natural areas.
The Western Wheel requested an interview with Balcaen, but no response was received before press time on Feb. 27.
Oneil Carlier, Alberta minister of agriculture and forestry, said the company made several changes to its logging plans in response to these issues, including realigning access roads, leaving larger buffer zones and modifying cut blocks to minimize visual obstructions. He said 10 per cent of trees in the cut-block areas will be retained.
“With the realignment, with the increased buffers we feel that’s going to go a long way to continue protecting what we can do,” he said.
Carlier said he has also asked for increased inspections of the site during logging operations.
“That’s why we took that concern seriously, that’s why we’re increasing the buffer zone, that’s why we’re lessening the visual impact for tourism, for people that enjoy the natural landscapes,” he said.
However, Carlier said there are multiple users in the area and the Province has to balance all interests. He said forestry is an important industry and contributor to the economy and the Province needs to ensure it is sustainable.
The changes don’t go far enough for opponents.
While there were concessions made about logging in the Barrel and Etherington Creek areas, Williams said they are part of future logging areas.
Trapper Justin Sjogren said the Province has not listened to concerns.
Given the number of businesses, municipalities and individuals opposed to the plan, he said the Province should’ve taken a step back and done more to address concerns.
“I would like to see the government be more open to communication with the stakeholders and actually listen to the things we’re trying to tell them and be a lot more honest in the communication they’re having,” said Sjogren.
He said the logging will destroy the most productive areas of this trap lines.
Sjogren said he’s getting the run around and being told contradicting information about how the logging will occur and what it would mean for him. He said he had to set up and remove his trap line twice due to conflicting information.
“It was when there was all that wicked minus 30 degree weather and instead of being able to set up when it was nice in December, I had to set up in that cold weather in January and then be told the next week that I had to take my stuff out,” said Sjogren.
Dewy Matthews, owner of Anchor D Ranch, said the concessions from the Province and logging company are miniscule.
He said he’s not opposed to logging, but the Highway 40 corridor is too valuable for tourism and as untouched natural landscape to clear-cut.
“We can’t advertise it as untouched anymore can we,” said Matthews. “Now the first thing they’re going to see at the foot of Mount Mann is that devastation and clear cut.”
The logging will impact Anchor D’s tours, he said.
Matthews has clients who come from around the world to take trips into the backcountry in the Highwood area. He said he will try to adjust his routes, but he won’t be able to avoid the logging to get to the Etherington trailhead.
“When it starts to look like it’s got the mange, that’s not a good thing,” said Matthews.
In the long run, he said the logging is short-sighted. Matthews said tourism is a long-term sustainable business compared to the one-time benefit from cutting logs and sending them out of province.