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Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Kananaskis Controversy: A Wilderness Playground or a Logging Hotspot??

Do we have the right to pick winners and losers in the management of Kananaskis Country?
The appeal of Kananaskis is in-your-face as you drive Highway 40
The appeal of Kananaskis is in-your-face as you drive Highway 40 | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Kananaskis is an iconic wilderness destination for hikers, climbers, kayakers, canoers, campers, picnickers, anglers, mountain bikers, off-highway vehicle (OHV) users, and more. 

A record 5.4 million people visited K Country and the Bow Valley corridor in 2020. 

Kananaskis Country is not just a place of economic and recreational value; it’s a treasure trove of biodiversity

Additionally, K-Country is the major water source for southern Alberta, home to five major rivers and a diverse range of fish species, including the at-risk westslope cutthroat trout and threatened bull trout.

So these at-risk species should be safe in Kananaskis, shouldn’t they?

But Isn’t Kananaskis a Protected Park?

Both grizzly and black bear make Kananaskis home | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

K Country is the backbone of the region’s recreation and web of life. Yet, less than two-thirds of Kananaskis is protected as provincial parks. 

And the part outside parks is under threat, putting the entire region at risk. 

In 2001, management of some of the Kananaskis unprotected lands was transferred to Spray Lakes Sawmills through a 20-year renewable Forest Management Agreement (FMA). 

Spray Lakes Sawmills was then acquired by BC-based West Fraser Timber in 2023. 

In November 2023, West Fraser Timber announced plans to log 1,100 hectares of valley bottom where Highway 541 meets Highway 40 in the Highwood Pass and West Bragg Creek areas. 

There was swift public backlash from various groups from municipalities, ranchers, fishermen, musicians, recreationalists and environmental groups.

Locals  were concerned about many negative impacts: 

  1.  Logging roads and bridges fragmenting wildlife populations;
  2. Sediment and runoff in rivers and increased flash flood potential, effecting  both water quality and quantity and fish populations;
  3.  Interference with volunteer-maintained trails; and 
  4. The consequences of concentrating tourists and recreational users into smaller areas.

In February 2024, West Fraser Timber paused this year’s timber harvest in the Highwood area. 

The company claimed they wanted to take more time to consult with local groups on the logging plans and with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on a controversial bridge they built without permits over the Highwood River.

Who Wins? Who Loses?

Our management choices have downstream effects, and there will be winners and losers. 

Logging in K-Country will have some winners—the logging company and the provincial government treasury are two examples. Even some wildlife benefits temporarily from clear-cut openings.

However, the list of losers is pretty long, including threatened bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, which need clean, cold, and slow rivers, and our communities downstream suffering impacts from a disrupted water cycle.

And, of course, tourists, hikers and campers don’t come to Kananaskis to see clearcuts! 

Ultimately, the question we all have to answer is what consequences we are willing to live with… and what we are willing to live without when managing Kananaskis. 

Protesters hold signs at the bridge built by Spray Lake/West Fraser Sawmills earlier this year
Protesters hold signs at the bridge built by Spray Lake/West Fraser Sawmills earlier this year | Howard May | Rocky Mountain Outlook

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