Mustang Hills to be Logged

The Mustang Hills is a group of three hills in the upper Elbow located northeast of Rainy Summit between Highway 66 and the Elbow River. At first glance, they appear to be covered in trees, but in reality they harbour meadows offering great views. This coming December, Spray Lakes Sawmills are slated to clearcut the lightly-treed slopes most hikers use to access the hills. See map below.

An organization has been formed called Stand for the Upper Elbow, with the goal of convincing the Government of Alberta to “change the designation of Mustang Hills from a public land designation to a designated area of conservation and recreation.” In other words to stop the logging of the Mustang Hills.

At their inaugural public meeting last week there was much talk about watershed management, forestry practices, wildlife management and other conservation issues that are being addressed by groups such a CPAWS and the Alberta Wilderness Association. While they can certainly add their voice to the debate, I am concerned that our specific goal of reducing the impact of logging on the Mustang Hills will become lost if too much weight is put on addressing the bigger picture.

In my opinion, the idea of changing the land use designation is a non-starter at this time. It is also very difficult to persuade the government to cancel a planned logging project, though there have been many attempts in recent years. The best results have been achieved by working directly with Spray Lakes Sawmills and the government to preserve, protect or buffer the trail system as much as possible. The Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association worked diligently with SLS, and the logged areas are now barely noticeable when using their trails.

Gillean already started this process many months ago by sending SLS a map of the Mustang Hills trails so they were aware they existed. As SLS pointed out, the trails are not designated trails and they have no authority to preserve them. They did, however, say that they would preserve the trails as much as possible. The most recent harvesting plan shows adjustments to protect the trails and modifications wanted by Fish & Wildlife such as buffers alongside the highway and feathering of cutblocks.

Having said all that, I think that there is a good case here for trying to persuade the government not to support the logging of the hills:

  • The portion of the cutblock that affects the trail to the top is relatively small compared to the total logging plan. Surely logging could be cut back to preserve the trail and reduce the visual impact for visitors along the highway without sacrificing very much merchantable timber.
  • AEP has spent a significant amount of flood-relief money rebuilding Cobble Flats PRA with the goal of diverting more picnickers from high-use Elbow Falls. Logged slopes above the day-use area and alongside the access road will detract from the recreational experience and deter people from using the area.
  • These days, many picnickers like to go for a walk as well. On the rebuild plan for Coble Flats a trail is shown heading along the gravel flats northeast of the picnic area. This is not enticing! Much better would be a well-constructed official trail to the high point of the Mustang Hills.
13 comments… add one
  • davebloggs May 12, 2019, 7:25 pm

    Its a shame to see them go but we have to remember that its a managed forest area and the trees are grown as a crop and for some its harvest time . the areas will be replanted . and the cycle will continue . as a photographer and hiker i have found several places where i can now have a great view and enjoy the photos because the trees have been harvested .

  • Alf Skrastins May 9, 2019, 10:24 pm

    So, this is how the Mustang Hills look post-logging.
    I biked on Highway #66 and hiked in a short distance from Rainy Summit. (Still too much snow to get very far). I also biked in to the upgraded Cobble Flats Day Use area and then hiked across the flats from there to get a view from the Elbow River.
    Not much of the logging is visible from Highway #66 or from the Cobble Flats Day Use Area. It looks like you would go through logged areas if you hike any of the popular, but unofficial routes.

  • Gillean Daffern Nov 17, 2018, 1:21 pm

    Latest report is that SLS are due to start logging on November 19.

  • Tony Daffern Apr 26, 2018, 5:58 pm

    The open house with Spray Lakes Sawmills this coming Wednesday at Cochrane Ranch House will be a good opportunity to ask them about the new Detailed Forest Management Plan I believe they are preparing, and to offer your suggestions.

  • Noelle Read Apr 26, 2018, 5:36 pm

    Since the Detailed Forest Plan of May 2007 was adopted we have suffered devastating flooding to river communities downstream from the Ghost Valley, the Highwood Junction and the Upper Elbow Valley. Does it not make sense that logging in these sensitive watersheds should be prohibited? Only 2% of our forests are being logged, so why is logging being allowed in areas where downstream flooding has caused so much social and economic devastation? Enormous costs to taxpayers are being incurred for unwanted berms and five years after the 2013 flood we are still at great risk from future floods. Commonsense solutions are being ignored by our decision makers while they state public input has been considered.

  • Gillean Daffern Mar 9, 2018, 10:18 am

    The next open house with Spray Lakes Sawmills is on Wednesday, May 2 at the Cochrane Ranchehouse between 3-7 pm. See you there.

  • Tony Daffern Mar 8, 2018, 3:11 pm

    A Calgary law firm is reported to have launched legal action against the Alberta Government and Spray Lakes Sawmills over the proposed logging of the Mustang Hills. This concerns me because some of the statements made in the CBC news release suggest that the group behind the action hasn’t done their homework.

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, SLS is operating under a Detailed Forest Management Plan that was developed between 2002 and 2006 with extensive public consultation. (read the details here). The concerns that people have now, were all dealt with before the plan was approved May 2007. Under this plan SLS gave up a significant area of cutting rights to allow for the creation of Don Getty, Blue Rock and Sheep River Wildland Provincial Parks. This was done with the understanding and agreement that the remainder of the forest management area would remain as “working forest”.

    SLS is required to undertake a hierarchy of planning, each level requiring government approval. In recent years they have held an annual open house in May to allow the public to view and comment on these more detailed plans. If the group initiating the lawsuit are complaining that they had no opportunity for consultation, they just haven’t been paying attention.

  • Gillean Daffern Mar 3, 2018, 1:25 pm

    Alec and everyone,
    Every early May, SLS holds an open house in Cochrane. Look at their website nearer the time to find out the exact date. This is your chance to look at future plans and to express your feelings.

  • Tony Daffern Mar 3, 2018, 12:23 pm

    Thanks for your comments Dave. There are many people who hope you are successful in protecting the Mustang Hills.
    On the larger front, I believe that SLS is operating on the Detailed Forest Management Plan dated May 2007, which is a rolling 20 year plan with reviews every 10 years. This plan sets out the agreements and principles under which they operate. I suspect that they are actively working on a new plan now that the Southern Alberta Regional Plan is in place. This will be our opportunity to point out that things are very different from the early 2000s when the current plan was being worked on. There has been an explosive growth in outdoor recreation driven by the increase in population of Calgary and surrounding communities. K Country is now used year-round by many different recreational groups, particularly in area closest to the city. Land uses such as logging and grazing need to be better defined and controlled in areas of high recreational use. The Alberta government needs to do a better job of their own area management planning, and require land managers to follow the plans and not cherry-pick the parts of the plan they personally agree with.

  • Dave Klepacki Mar 2, 2018, 9:42 pm

    I would like to append my comment with the note that we are NOT opposed to logging. I believe all of us live in houses with wood frames at least. We do believe that logging in the foothills (as opposed to the boreal Jack Pine White Spruce forest near White Court for instance) needs better planning to maintain our drinking water resource, wild life diversity, and recreational use than the planning that is currently operative.

  • Dave Klepacki Mar 2, 2018, 9:36 pm

    I am a member of the Bragg Creek group that is active in trying to remove the 2 cut blocks at Mustang Hills from the 23 cut blocks in McLean Creek Phase 2 that are being cut or slated for cutting in the next 2 years. It turns out that the Provincial government can remove 10% of the proposed cut area from the Harvest Plan without penalty. Our aim is to have the 2 cut blocks at Mustang Hills fit this designation. However our larger goal is to have the Elbow River protected by Provincial Recreation Areas from Gooseberry to the Little Elbow area. The Mustang Hills is the only gap in this designation. In fact the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association did not have a good experience with Spray Lakes Sawmills in negotiating a “side deal” to protect trails at West Bragg Creek. I am not a member of GBTA so I cannot speak authoritatively on the details of that verbal agreement but several of those involved are my neighbors and describe the outcome as deception. Tony is correct in describing our larger goal as preserving what forest remains uncut of the headwaters of the Elbow River from clear cutting. However our immediate goal is preserve the 2 cut blocks at Mustang Hills (again out of the 23 designated for cutting) and the trails within this area and the trout within the adjacent Elbow River. We are told the government regulators are receptive to this proposal.

  • Tony Daffern Mar 2, 2018, 1:25 pm

    Thanks for your interest Alec. The best way to reduce the impact of the logging is to negotiate with Forestry and SLS to adjust the harvesting plan to minimize the impact on the trails. The question is Who is going to do this? Gillean already started the process some months ago, but now Stand for the Upper Elbow has appeared with their own agenda that includes watershed conservation issues as well. We are concerned that activist, anti-logging publicity will result in Forestry digging in their heels and specifically prohibiting SLS from doing anything to preserve the trails, which after all are not designated and which they probably didn’t even know about until recently.

    The solution we would like to see is for SLS to preserve as much as possible of the trail from Cobble Flats and Rainey Summit. To leave the somewhat sparse trees100 m each side of the trail up to the first summit.

  • Alec Lamb Mar 1, 2018, 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the update! Really saddened to hear this area is set to be logged- it’s at the center of a truly beautiful area. As of now, what’s the best way to persuade the government not to support this project, or to further encourage SLS to reduce their impact? I’d really like to help in these efforts.

Leave a Comment