Plans to remove timber from the southern gateway to Kananaskis is raising concern among Foothills residents and recreational users.
Balcaen Consolidated Contracting Ltd. is planning to begin logging near the Highwood Junction next year. Work to begin building access roads in the area will begin in August. The company's logging quota area includes patches of trees south of Highway 541 along Highway 940.
The logging plans are raising alarm among regular users, including hiking groups and a local trapper using the area for his livelihood.
Black Diamond resident Neil Williams, a frequent hiker in the region, said he and others who come to the area to get back to nature are concerned about the impact on the Highwood River drainage system and tributaries like Etherington Creek.
“And, there's our own selfish interest in loving the hills up there and the wilderness area and what we see and experience there,” said Williams. “We're not sure what's going to become of some of the trails, but I imagine they'll just become roadways for logging vehicles, and it's just not quite the same.”
Williams said there is a group of users banding together to voice their opinions over the project and get more information.
He said they're concerned about the lack of public consultation on a major project. There should have been contact with area stakeholders, he said.
“We're still a little bit in the dark, so that's what we're trying to find out,” said Williams.
Trapper Justin Sjorgen agrees. Though his trapline will be directly impacted by logging activity, the fact nobody contacted him to discuss the logging plans is what bothers him the most.
“If I hadn't been asking questions about why these ribbons were showing up, it would have just been clear cut, 100 per cent,” said Sjorgen. “There would have just been machines showing up at my door, clearing right to the cabin.”
Besides having little notice as a resident, he said trappers are supposed to be consulted prior to any logging work being done, according to the Spray Lake Sawmills operating ground rules governed by the Province.
Other logging companies in Alberta are setting higher standards, he said.
“They're doing public consultations, they're consulting with the trappers and other user groups, they're actually making concessions and saying if the area is really important they'll avoid it,” said Sjorgen. “It's pretty disappointing there's supposed to be these methods in place and they're not happening here.”
The only concessions made to-date have been to move the boundaries by a few metres in certain areas to provide more room for his traplines, he said. Sjorgen said he wants a 1.5-kilometre buffer zone along the highway, which would accommodate his lines and recreational users, and keep the area looking pristine.
“Considering that's pretty much the gateway to the Kananaskis at the south end, that they just want to start up where we can see it, it's not really okay,” said Sjorgen. “It's that corridor that everybody uses and everybody wants. And, it's been a pretty solid message that everybody wants it.”
Officials with Balcaen's contractor, CCI Inc. out of Cochrane, say the company is required to reclaim the land to its original standard after logging, and still allow Sjorgen access to his traplines as it currently exists.
Keith Ebbs, forestry and environmental co-ordinator for CCI, said the company must also replant trees within two years to replace the ones harvested.
“Our plan in there would be probably to straight-plant the species there right now, so that's Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, white spruce,” said Ebbs.
The logging project is a spatial harvest sequence, meaning trees are removed primarily based on their age and condition. The idea is to remove the most mature timber first and prevent losing it to bugs or fire, he said.
He said the company intends to improve the old trail currently used to access the traplines by fixing crossing structures and culverts.
The trapline itself shouldn't be disturbed too much, he said.
“Justin said he's trapping in a game corridor, and our planning forester agreed with him that it was, so we're staying up out of the riparian zone all together,” said Ebbs. “Most of the wildlife in that area tend to be down in the riparian areas along the river or along the creeks, and both the ground rules and our practice dictate we don't disturb that area, we don't log in there.”
Additionally, he said CCI amended its plan to cut less timber around Sjorgen's cabin and leave him a larger buffer than the ground rules suggest.
“We're willing to work with him, and we continue to work with him,” said Ebbs.
To-date, CCI hasn't heard any opposition from the public outside of Sjorgen's issues, though the company would be willing to hear from anyone with concerns, he said.
Despite CCI Inc's promises to clean the area when it vacates, Sjorgen said he's worried about the long-term effects on the region.
It won't be the same again in his lifetime, he said.
According to the operating ground rules, logging companies are bound to consider forest aesthetics, which he said is not being done when clear cutting happens right next to busy highways in a heavily-used area.
Though CCI's plan is to clear cut in a similar pattern to a forest fire, imitating nature's work, he said it's not the same.
“After a fire's been through, it clean everything up and everything's replenished,” said Sjorgen. “But after a lumber company there's piles and there's stumps and brush. It's pretty gross after they go through.”