Ecosystem-based Forest Planning and Management on Alberta’s Southern Eastern Slopes

The forests of the southern Eastern Slopes are vital to the Albertans health and quality of life. These lands offer more than gorgeous vistas – the Southern Eastern Slopes house the headwaters of clean-flowing rivers, support a diverse community of large mammals such as grizzly bears, cougars, elk, mountain goats and bighorn sheep, native fish, including bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, numerous birds and a high diversity of insects. They also provide a wide range of recreational opportunities for families and intrepid adventurers.

The Southern Eastern Slopes of the Alberta Rocky Mountains are a narrow band of land on the western edge of Alberta extending from the Red Deer River along the Rocky Mountain Front and south to the Canadian border with Montana (Figure 1). Although this area is mostly forested, it contains a mosaic of vegetation types including coniferous and mixedwood forests, open grasslands and rich riparian areas. These varied and unique ecosystems create areas of high species diversity including pockets containing the highest biodiversity in the province.

The Southern Eastern Slopes are also home to diverse land-uses including commercial forestry, cattle ranching, recreation and oil and gas. The complexity of this landscape indicates a need for wholistic planning.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Southern Alberta Chapter (CPAWS SAB) is conducting a project that is focusing on moving current forest management policies and practices in Alberta’s Southern Eastern Slopes towards and ecosystem-based model that prioritizes the conservation of the irreplaceable ecological value of this region.  Ecosystem-based planning and management recognizes the complexity of interactions and values of an ecosystem, including humans—as opposed to considering a single issue such as timber-volume. Accordingly, using an ecosystem-based approach in management of the Southern Eastern Slopes could both incorporate and prioritize social and ecological objectives in the region.

Alberta’s Southern Eastern Slopes

Alberta’s Southern Eastern Slopes

The threat

CPAWS SAB is concerned that despite the economic, social and environmental importance of the forests of the Southern Eastern Slopes, environmental and social objectives are not being met by current forest management practices.

CPAWS SAB asserts that the principles governing current forestry practices in Alberta are rooted in a model in which the primary focus is extraction of timber and other resources.  Widespread clear-cutting and the association roads network created by logging activities, and other industry, has major impacts on watershed values, wildlife and nature-based recreation. Forest clearing, increasing densities of linear access disturbances, in part from forestry activities, and the accompanying off-highway vehicle use throughout the region have led to decreases in water quality, changes seasonal runoff patterns, and disturbances or degradation to key wildlife habitats.

Numerous communities and stakeholders in Southern Alberta have voiced their concerns over forest management and planning in the southern eastern slopes, yet little has been done to address their concerns.

What CPAWS is doing

In 2012 CPAWS SAB conducted an online survey and five community workshops in order to understand how diverse stakeholders (families, interest groups and individuals) broadly perceive forest management on the Southern Eastern Slope. Based on this work and a review of scientific literature, CPAWS SAB believes that ecosystem-based management is an appropriate approach to the management of the Southern Eastern Slopes.  In order to identify the major objectives of current forest management policy in Alberta and the barriers to introducing ecosystem-based management, the CPAWS SAB reviewed the current policies that most influence how forests are managed in Southern Alberta in order to identify opportunities for change. 

CPAWS SAB is currently working on creating a vision for an ecosystem-based forest plan for the southern eastern slopes based in current ecological science and public expectation of forest management. Through this project we aim to promote policies and practices which are sustainable, and ensure that the ecological services of this environmentally significant area are maintained. We are working with multiple organizations, businesses and stakeholders to develop concrete recommendations on what ecosystem-based forest planning looks like for this region and how planning and management can be changed to prioritize the maintenance of a safe and healthy environment.

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