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.