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Howard May | Rocky Mountain Outlook

Albertans Stand Up for Kananaskis: Kananaskis Saved from the Saw, For Now

Kananaskis Country's trees are safe for now, as West Fraser has decided to hold off on its clearcutting project

Environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts are thrilled that West Fraser Timber Co. has temporarily halted its proposed clearcutting project in Kananaskis Country, which would have affected more than 2,700 acres in the Upper Highwood region.

This decision comes after the company acquired Cochrane’s Spray Lake Sawmills in November and faced months of concerted opposition from environmental groups, local communities, and concerned citizens.

The controversy began when plans to clearcut a forested area roughly the size of 2,000 football fields surfaced, triggering a wave of activism aimed at preserving the natural landscape. 

Critics of the clearcut operation raised concerns about its potential impact on local ecosystems, particularly the habitat of at-risk species such as the bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout

The opposition was widespread and was marked by letter-writing campaigns, protests, and the organization of local groups, collectively sending over 6,500 letters to authorities and stakeholders.

Consultation With Local Groups

West Fraser Timber’s response to the backlash has been to engage in a more comprehensive consultation process with local groups and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). 

The company intends to incorporate feedback from these discussions into its future harvest plans for the Highwood area. 

West Fraser initiated dialogue with the DFO about a bridge over the Highwood River, which the company built without proper DFO approvals. Many locals consider it an ‘illegal bridge.’

Environmental groups have cautiously welcomed the company’s announcement. 

Josh Killeen from the Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Devon Earl from the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) highlighted the importance of the pause as a positive step towards ensuring the protection of sensitive ecosystems and protection of endangered fish species.

However, they both emphasized the need for ongoing vigilance to ensure that the halt in operations leads to a permanent ban on clearcutting in the area.

The bridge over the Highwood River that was built without DFO permits | CPAWS
The bridge over the Highwood River that was built without DFO permits | CPAWS

Diverse Opposition

The pause in logging operations is seen as a victory for the diverse coalition of opponents, including the mayors of Okotoks and High River, who have advocated for protecting the region from the adverse effects of clearcutting. 

These local leaders have cited concerns over watershed integrity, especially in response to the province’s current drought situation and maintaining slope integrity to prevent future flooding.

Amber Toner from the group Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood thinks the planned approval conflicts with the stated purpose of the Kananaskis Conservation Pass, which costs Albertans $90 a year to access the recreational opportunities of Kananaskis.

Toner lamented, “The discrepancy between what Albertans pay for [the Conservation Pass] and what they witness in terms of extensive clear-cutting is alarming and goes against the essence of conservation efforts.”

We Want a Say!

Few people, except West Fraser Timber, want to see the Upper Highwood logged.

Most locals want a balance between economic growth and environmental preservation and feel the current government has swung too far in favour of big companies that want to exploit Alberta’s natural resources.

The uproar over clearcutting in Kananaskis Country highlights the public’s growing concern about the need to preserve natural landscapes and biodiversity, especially in the Foothills region. 

The Higwoods controversy is a reminder of the importance of stakeholder engagement.

Going forward, Albertans will demand more consultation with companies and governments before decisions are made that will alter our beloved natural landscape.

Whether it’s storing massive amounts of carbon underground, removing mountain tops for coal, closing provincial parks, or logging our beloved Kananaskis, Albertans want a say!

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