Water . . . Bears . . . Landscape
With Kevin Van Tigham
Sponsored by the Ghost Valley Community
The Ghost River Community sponsored a presentation titled “Water . . . Bears . . . Landscape” on April 14, 2015 at a church hall in Northwest Calgary. The featured speaker was Kevin Van Tigham, author of 11 books and former Superintendent of Banff National Park. The Calgary location was important as the Ghost is a relatively remote wildland, upstream from Calgary, where 30% of the floodwater originated in the 2013 flood. It is also an area that is being heavily logged and where off-highway vehicles (OHV) are causing significant disruption to the landscape. Like the Elbow River watershed, the Ghost watershed is a critical source of water for Calgary.
The presentation was very sophisticated. They had loads of data, analysis and reasonable arguments as well as aerial photos, wildlife photos, archival photos that showed the changes in the landscape over time and contextual photos that showed how water, wildlife and land-use intersect. Their point is that water is the source and support for life and that logging and OHVs are degrading the ability of the watershed to retain water and supply water over time resulting in floods and reduced water quality and quantity.
Although there is a current fear of floods, Van Tigham pointed to a water conservation program, in place from 1947 to 1973, which was a response to drought in the 1930s. He said we should be worrying about drought as much as floods. We can’t afford to lose the ability of the land to store and distribute water. He also made the point that revenue generated by taking trees and wildlife from the land doesn’t cover the cost of managing that activity, let alone the negative cost of degrading a critical resource.
Van Tigham said that the forest, the bogs, fens, marshes and beaver dams upstream from Calgary all hold vast stores of water that is critical to supply the city with water for life. They provide a water management system that is far more reliable and cost effective than man-made dams.
When Save Kananaskis made many of the same arguments about a decade ago, the city water managers told us that the forest plays a vital role in water management. The obvious impact of logging was the erosion of exposed soil that loaded streams and rivers with sediment and nutrients. Removing trees removes organic matter that sustains the forest. Less obvious was the release of carbon that is stored in the trees and soil. Even less obvious is the role the forest plays in capturing, storing and releasing water over time. The exposed snow on a clearcut slope sublimates, that is, it turns from snow to vapour and never enters the landscape. Or it melts quickly and flows into rivers contributing to floods. That water is lost to the water supply chain. An intact forest shades the snow, allowing it to melt into the land which acts as a sponge. The sponge releases the water gradually through the summer when it is needed.
When Save Kananaskis was active we were forced to focus on the pine beetle and forest fire and their interaction with planned logging. That was a red herring. Both bugs and fire are an important part of the forest life cycle. We understood the impact of logging on the watershed, but we weren’t able to focus on it in the way the Ghost community is now. The 2013 flood was a wakeup call; sounding the alarm that we need to protect our watersheds before it’s too late.
As we’re in an election cycle the Ghost Community said we should put pressure on the only people that can do anything about this – the government. They provided postcards we could send to Premier Jim Prentice at this address:
323 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Ave.
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Dear Premier Prentice
There is something you should be aware of.
1000's of hectares of forest are being clearcut in ongoing operations within the Ghost Valley. One harvest plan, originally approved over a 20-year horizon, will now see 5300 truckloads (900 hectares) of timber in a sensitive wetland rapidly clearcut in just 2 to 3 years.
The Ghost River Watershed supplies clean, abundant water to downstream municipalities like Cochrane and Calgary, while providing natural flood mitigation and drought resistance.
What's At Stake?
Clearcut logging undermines the landscape's ability to store and slowly release water, increasing the possibility of downstream flooding and seasonal droughts. We must preserve these ecological services in the Ghost River Watershed. In 2013, the Ghost River supplied one-third of measured volumes to the flooded Bow River.
I urge you to place an immediate moratorium on logging in the Ghost Valley, until proper hydrological and environmental assessments can determine the consequences of such large-scale, rapid timber harvests.
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Visit the Stop Ghost Clearcut web site