Over 1,100 hectares of clearcut logging is planned for the Upper Highwood in Kananaskis
The Upper Highwood is an almost 50,000 hectare watershed in southern Kananaskis Country. Approximately 48% of the watershed is protected, largely by the Elbow-Sheep Wildland and the Don Getty Wildland. However, the other 52% is part of the Spray Lake Sawmills Forest Management Agreement, making it available for clearcut harvest.
This is despite the fact that the whole area is within the Kananaskis Pass zone, which Albertans pay $90/year to access in order to “keep this special part of Alberta beautiful and protected for generations to come.”
A WILDLIFE AND RECREATION PARADISE
It's Worth More than Spray Lake Sawmills' Profit
The area is a largely untouched wilderness with huge importance for wildlife. The planned harvest areas contain or are adjacent to many streams and creeks that are identified as potential Critical Habitat for the Threatened bull trout. The harvest is also in the midst of the core part of the Recovery Zone for threatened grizzly bear, that was delineated in Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery plan.
A portion of the 2023 harvest area is also within the Critical Wildlife zone of the Eastern Slopes Land Use Zoning, which “is to protect ranges or terrestrial and aquatic habitats that are crucial to the maintenance of specific fish and wildlife populations.”. In addition, all the harvest areas are inside mountain goat and sheep areas, which are identified so that land uses disturbances that may have an adverse effect on these species can be avoided.
The Highwood is also a popular area for low-impact recreation. The planned harvest is located close to Highway 40 on the route from Highwood Junction to Highwood Pass. This incredibly scenic route has many lookouts, recreation areas, and trails. One block is planned right alongside the highway, within 250m of the Lineham Provincial Recreation Area. Others are planned over trails such as Loomis Creek, Odium Pond, Mount Bishop and Hill of the Flowers.
The Upper Highwood is a key watershed when it comes to flood mitigation risk. Planned harvest areas for 2023 would put clearcut harvest within 200m of the Highwood River along almost 9 km of its length, and within less than 100m along 4 km of that. It would also involve harvest on many steep, erodible slopes.
Spray Lake Sawmills’ own Forest Management Plan outlines how water yield, as measured by a metric called “Equivalent Clearcut Area”, which considers disturbance and regrowth, should be kept at less than 30% (“low risk”). However, one of the sub-watersheds in the Upper Highwood will reach 46% (at the very top end of the “moderate risk” category, with “high risk” reached at 50%), if the planned harvest goes ahead. This is very concerning given the importance of this area for mitigating flood risk – clearcutting results in increased water yield and peak flows.
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which was created to guide land use management for the region, states that “Watershed management and headwaters protection is the priority. Forests will be managed with this as the highest priority (including water storage, recharge and release functions).”
Read our letter to Minister of Forestry and Parks
How can SLS log in Critical Habitat?
By any definition, the Highwood River should constitute Critical Habitat for the SARA-listed bull trout and it should be illegal to destroy it. Unfortunately, in practice, it's a little bit more complicated.