CPAWS Southern Alberta is pleased to release our Environmental DNA Survey for Bull Trout in Loomis Creek in the Upper Highwood, Kananaskis Country.
This region is scheduled for clearcut logging by Spray Lake Sawmills (SLS). Over 1,100 hectares of harvest is planned, which will have severe consequences for an estimated 55 kilometres of Critical Habitat for the bull trout, a federally listed species at risk — especially as harvest occurs within 30 metres of Critical Habitat for 26 linear kilometres of waterway.
Our findings confirm the presence of bull trout in Loomis Creek — a tributary of the Highwood River, legally designated as Critical Habitat for Alberta’s official fish under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Notably, detections of bull trout eDNA were confirmed in all field replicates at the most upstream site sampled.
The study’s confirmation that Loomis Creek has resident bull trout, at least as far as 3.2 kilometres upstream of the Highwood River and likely much further, has serious implications should SLS’ harvest proceed. With the logging for this area stretching up both sides of the creek all the way from the Highwood River up to the Don Getty Wildland border, there is a real risk this vital habitat could be lost as a result.Josh Killeen, Conservation Science and Program Manager at CPAWS Southern Alberta
SLS’ planned logging has already come under fire for building a bridge through Critical Habitat along the Highwood River without the required permit. Loomis Creek is at particular risk, as harvest is planned along both sides of the creek, and along the majority of its length. This logging will necessitate access roads and multiple crossing structures, which will further disrupt this sensitive ecosystem.
While many won’t be surprised by this news, it serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of the area not only for this SARA-listed species, but also for the preservation of regional biodiversity and hydrological function, as well as the immense recreation value of Kananaskis Country.
As a result of this report, we believe it is imperative that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada not issue Section 73 permits under SARA for the destruction of Critical Habitat adjacent to Loomis Creek and its tributaries. Further, we emphasize our repeated call for SLS’ clearcut to be cancelled. It is an irresponsible and unsustainable project that is indicative of the desperate need for reform in Alberta’s approach to forest management.
Forests should be managed for conservation value and public good, and not prioritize timber supply first and above all else as they are now — and have been for decades. We need an ecosystem-based forest management plan for the Southern Eastern Slopes and Alberta as a whole, and we cannot continue to delay this larger policy conversation as projects like the Highwood harvest are summarily approved and quickly logged.
Our deep gratitude goes out to Bow River Trout Foundation (BRTF), who provided the funding to make this possible, and to Matt Coombs at Fintegrate Fisheries & Watershed Consulting Ltd. for completing the work and preparing this report on our behalf.
We are happy to have been able to confirm that Loomis Creek is very likely used by bull trout throughout the year, supporting all life stages of the species, and to contribute this up-to-date knowledge to the understanding of species distribution. However, we are disappointed that this study had to happen after logging had already been planned and approved. SLS and the Government of Alberta knew that the harvest area overlapped with Critical Habitat. It should not be the responsibility of civil society or organizations to be the watchdogs of the forestry industry. Companies and governments should respect the prohibition on destruction of Critical Habitat and avoid these areas in the planning stages.Katie Morrison, Executive Director at CPAWS Southern Alberta
For more information or with questions, please contact:
Kat Graves, Communications Manager at CPAWS Southern Alberta | email@example.com