An Ecosystem-Based Approach to Forest Management

  • Published on Oct 17 2017 |
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By Katie Morrison,
Conservation Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta 

As winter approaches, we may start to see more big trucks hauling logs from our southern Alberta forests to sawmills, where they will be turned into lumber, fence posts, and mulch.  Whenever I pass these trucks I wonder where they are coming from, how the timber was harvested, and what impacts it might have had on the native cutthroat trout or safe movement of grizzly bears.

This summer, CPAWS Southern Alberta set out to answer some of these questions and released a forestry report, looking at the need to change forest planning and forestry practices on the Southern Eastern Slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. “Envisioning a better way forward for Alberta” calls for a management model that would prioritize values such as water, natural fire resilience, biodiversity, and wildlife movement. This would mean moving away from the current commercial timber-driven model of logging our headwaters forests.

While we recognize that forestry plays an important role in Alberta, we want to provide some viable, science-based solutions that promote sustainable forestry practices, specific to the Southern Eastern Slopes, for the benefit of nature and communities.

The Southern Eastern Slopes, extending from the Red Deer River to the Montana border, contains a mosaic of vegetation and landscapes. This region is also home to the headwaters of clean-flowing rivers that support a diverse community of humans, mammals, fish, birds, and insects. Connectivity on this landscape is important for wildlife movement and for maintaining natural processes on the land.

With some of the highest biodiversity in the province, the Southern Eastern Slopes is also home to diverse land-uses, including forestry. The current system of timber-driven harvest increases the density of industrial roads, decreases water quality, changes seasonal runoff patterns, degrades key wildlife habitats, and detracts from wilderness recreation experiences.

Individuals and groups from Calgary, the Ghost, Bragg Creek, Black Diamond, Crowsnest Pass, Livingstone, Lethbridge, Pincher Creek, and Beaver Mines are growing concerned with industrial forestry practices and their effects. The high level of opposition to the proposed logging in the Upper Highwood region of Kananaksis exemplifies the need to address impacts and community concerns across the landscape.

The current condition of the Southern Eastern Slopes indicates the need to manage this landscape with an ecosystem-based forest management approach. This does not mean all timber harvest would stop, however, a critical piece of this approach is to prioritize a suite of values including water, biodiversity, and wildlife movement over timber-driven values.

Our recommendations for adopting a mandate of ecosystem-based management include:

  • Designating new protected areas on the Southern Eastern Slopes;
  • Maintaining landscape connectivity and integrity;
  • Maintaining natural age structures on a landscape level;
  • Restoring damaged and fragmented areas;
  • Designating areas for recreation and other low-impact land uses;
  • Designating areas for timber management, and implementing site-level ecologically sustainable timber management;
  • Applying adaptive management practices.

These on-the-ground changes would recognize the public value of these public lands, and would facilitate increased public input into management decisions. Embracing multiple values will support local economies, communities, and natural functions and processes.
To learn more, please read, “Envisioning a better way forward for Alberta.” You can help by sharing this article with your friends and signing the petition on

Your donations to CPAWS Southern Alberta will help support this and other conservation initiatives right here in southern Alberta.