Cutting in Kananaskis

Recreation group cries foul over logging in popular hiking area

Changes to logging plans in the Bragg Creek area have upset recreational user groups. The government’s plan to clear-cut parts of the forest to create fire-breaks west of Bragg Creek as part of a preventative Fire Smart program were met with public opposition in August 2012. The final plan was approved by the ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) in November after months of consultation between the provincial government Spray Lakes Sawmills and recreational groups. Shaun Peter president of Bragg Creek and Kananaskis Outdoor Recreation (BCKOR) is now accusing the government of altering the project to permit more logging than originally planned.

“This is in an area [ESRD] admitted isn’t for ‘fire-smarting’” says Peter.

The controversy is over a section of the montane forest called Block 13. The block sits between two popular hiking trails which user groups don’t want spoiled by clear-cutting. BCKOR and Spray Lake Sawmills — the logging company licensed to harvest in the area — were both part of a stakeholder sub-committee that met in the fall of 2012 to come to an agreement on how the cutting could occur with minimal trail damage.

“What was discussed was that the west side of that block is absolutely critical to the Fire Smart plan the east side less so. But the trick was that road access to the west side was problematic” explains ESRD spokesman Duncan MacDonnell. The subcommittee agreed some trees would be cut on Block 13’s east side to create access roads and space to load timber but there was no conclusion on how much cutting that would require.

Now that Peter has seen the approved harvest map in which approximately 75 per cent of the contentious area will be cut he’s crying foul.

“If you look at especially the northern portion of the block and the middle of the block there are huge patches of logging that are nowhere near any road” he says. “So it’s obvious that Spray Lakes Sawmills’ proposal is just about harvesting the timber and the government’s gone along with it. And that’s what we’ve been saying all along is that this whole proposal has really been about logging Bragg Creek and Kananaskis and that they’ve used this smokescreen of ‘fire smarting’ to try to convince the public that it’s necessary.”

MacDonnell says cutting is already complete in much of the 704 acres approved for clear-cutting in Bragg Creek’s Fire Smart program including 30 per cent of Block 13 so there’s no going back now. He adds that this is a “higher profile” project so the ministry has sent more forest management officers than usual to monitor Spray Lake Sawmills’ activities in the area.

BCKOR has also admitted the ESRD made concessions to its original plans following public opposition and government agents have been noticeably present on site. However he isn’t prepared to put his faith in ESRD’s commitment to preserve the forest for recreational use.

“If they’re going to log over this trail system; one of the most popular trail systems in all of Kananaskis inside the park and outside the park… what are they going to log next?” asks Peter.