Article written for the Calgary Area Outdoor Council (CAOC)
by Doug Sephton
About 2-million people visit Kananaskis annually (1/2-million in the Elbow Valley).
About half of Calgary’s water comes from the Elbow River watershed.
There are about 100 gas wells and 70 km of pipeline in the Elbow Valley.
Spray Lakes Sawmills plans on taking about 200,000 trees out of Kananaskis annually.
The Forest Management Agreement (FMA) between Spray Lakes Sawmills and Alberta Sustainable Resources states, “the primary use of the forest management area is for establishing, growing, harvesting and removing timber.” The FMA includes all of Kananaskis and a similar sized territory north of Highway 1 including the Ghost-Waiparous and Bighorn areas.
Almost half of Kananaskis, the eastern slopes and foothills, is an industrial development zone. Many assume that it is protected. But, the only “protected” areas are the parking lots, campsites and picnic areas at the trailheads, and the inaccessible alpine areas. Most of the eastern part of Kananaskis; the areas where people hike, cycle, ride, ski and otherwise enjoy a true wilderness experience, is primarily designated as industrial. We need to reconsider the multi-use policy. A strategic land use policy to prioritize access for industrial, agricultural and recreational interests is needed.
The Bragg Creek Environmental Coalition and the Bragg Creek - Gateway to Kananaskis web site have identified this problem and they are asking you to help protect Kananaskis. In mid-June they asked people to write to the company and to government ministers to conduct a public consultation on Spray Lakes’ plan and to stop the logging. Hundreds wrote powerful statements of shock and sadness at the prospect of having a highly valued wilderness destroyed. Letters told personal stories of a connection to the land shared with family and friends.
Our natural habitat is disappearing, replaced with barren land where nutrients and sediments erode into creeks and rivers, wreaking havoc on our water supply. This is not sustainable. It is irreparable damage. The land will take generations to heal. The old growth trees being cut are over 170-years-old. What will future generations think of us? Maybe they won’t care, because they won’t know what was lost. A number of letters from 6 and 8-year-olds expressed worry that we’ll make a mess of their world. It takes 90 years for a tree to grow to the size it can be harvested again. The short-term benefits of current industrial activity will have long-term impacts. What is the legacy we’ll leave for our children and theirs?
We’re losing our natural heritage. Let’s do something now, before it’s gone. Citing the threat of forest fire and infestation of the pine beetle, Sustainable Resource Development is planning aggressive logging in Kananaskis that could wipe out much of the forest, along with the animals that lived there. Our landscape will be transformed and we’ll have to drive to Banff to enjoy the outdoors. Fire and bugs are natural processes that can be managed. Removing the forest is not the way to do that.
It’s happened before. The popular Wildhorse trail on Powderface ridge, once a favourite ride for many cyclists, has lost its appeal due to extensive logging. People don’t go there anymore.
Stopping logging deals only with one symptom of a larger problem – land use. You can see the problem in the confusion caused by two branches of government working at cross purposes. Sustainable Resource Development is facilitating industrial development that allows for clear-cuts, pipelines, roads, and heavy equipment in Kananaskis, while Community Development won't allow the 600 mountain bike racers in the TransRockies cycling event to pass through the area on one day of the year due to their impact on the environment. The Bow 80, the Banded Peak Challenge, the Powderface 42, the Moose Mountain Marathon and the 5 Peaks trail run all face similar restrictions. Recreational use has a negative impact on the natural landscape, but industry is taking a greater toll.
How can we weigh economic benefits against personal benefits that we take away from a wilderness experience?
What is the answer to the cost/benefit equation considering the value of the lumber and the carbon against the cost of water treatment and the impact industrial activity has on recreation and tourism? As Calgary grows, more people put pressure on the ecosystem through recreation. At the same time there is a greater reliance on that ecosystem to provide the water we drink. Industry has aggressive expansion plans for their exploitation of Alberta’s resources including forestry, natural gas and coalbed methane in the foothills.
I spent my Ralph Bucks. I imagine you did too. Certainly our government cashes cheques drawn on a resource industry account. So there’s the mirror. Can we look ourselves in the eye and say, “save Kananaskis, it’s worth it”?
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