We attended a meeting in Bragg Creek last night, organized by Peter Tucker, of SustainK, “to provide the public with information about the proposed logging so they better understand the issues”. Four invited speakers gave short presentations followed by a question and answer session involving 2 additional locals with fire prevention knowledge. Robert Sadée of the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBCTA) told us that talks between Spray Lakes Sawmills (SLS) and GBCTA had ended with many unresolved issues, and that it was now up to SRD to make the final decisions on the mitigation concerns. Neither SRD nor SLS will entertain any further discussion and did not attend. Ted Morton, local MLA running for re-election, stated that he will use all his political influence to try to defer logging until the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan is approved and subsequent public discussions held. Given the election poll predictions, this may not happen. The current round of logging will likely go ahead as planned.
Dr. Brad Stelfox (U of A), who works for ALCES Landscape and Land-Use Ltd. of Bragg Creek, consultants who provide customized land-use planning services to government and business, put the whole land use situation in the Eastern Slopes in perspective, graphically showing the building pressure of numerous land users over the last 60 or more years. He pointed to the many conflicting, and somewhat incompatible, land uses in the area: the Alberta Forestry Act’s requirement for logging the eastern slopes; grazing interests; fire protection for Bragg Creek; watershed protection, and an extensive, multi-user recreational trail system close to Calgary.
He suggested that the only way to move ahead on these issues is to persuade the government to change the mandate of SRD to include recreation, and allow for more public input into protecting prime recreation areas close to major population centers from unnecessary logging. If fire protection is needed, logging techniques should be adjusted accordingly. This would initially involve input into the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (input deadline apparently now extended to end of June.) Then a group of dedicated volunteers would need to lobby for changes to forestry management practices in Alberta. Another option would be to lobby for the West Bragg trails area to be given some form of legal protection from continued timber harvesting such as making the whole area a Provincial Recreation Area.
Other speakers included:
Dr. Ralph Cartar, an evolutionary ecologist from the U of C. He presented statistics aimed at debunking some of the statements used by SLS & SRD to justify logging. He suggests that logging does not reduce the incidence of wildfires, and that this incidence is highly variable. He challenged the statement that the return period of wildfires in West Bragg area was 30 – 50 years. He also challenged the belief that old forests are more susceptible to fires, pointing out that low-level grass fires in recently cut blocks can also move very quickly. He said that while SLS suggests that a healthy landscape needs to have trees of many different ages, this is already a given in West Bragg area, as an aerial photo showed. He was challenged by another participant during the question period, resulting in a pissing match between scientists with different views. While an interesting presentation demonstrating the need for the Alberta government to review forest management practices, it offered no solutions to the mitigation of logging damage to the trail system.
Robert Sadée, from the GBCTA reviewed the mitigation discussions between GBCTA and SLS. Initially their top priority was to get 50-100 m buffers along 11 of 15 km of trails through the cut blocks. The requested buffers were halved after discussions with FireSmart indicated that, in some cut blocks, leaving buffers would greatly reduce the time a fire took to reach the community boundary. Some of his other remarks have already been reported in the first paragraph.
Mike Murray, Program Manager for the Bow River Basin Council talked about protecting the Elbow River watershed and outlined the aims of the Elbow River Watershed Partnership. Again, while interesting, he didn’t provide any solutions to the current problem, nor did he offer an opinion on the effect of West Bragg logging on the watershed either in the near future or in the long-term—5, 10 or 20 years.
One of the more interesting discussions that followed was on the effectiveness of the FireSmart program. Detractors always seem to mention the Slave Lake fire, and the fact that it was virtually unstoppable. It was pointed out that while a major fire in extreme drought and wind conditions would probably destroy Bragg Creek irrespective of FireSmart logging, the cut blocks had a very good chance of preventing small fires in moderate environmental conditions from reaching the community before they could be bought under control.