Over 1,100 Hectares of Clearcut Logging Planned for the Upper Highwood in Kananaskis

Our Letter to the Government and Spray Lake Sawmills

Many of you have asked for more information on this alarming proposal, so we hope being able to read the letter that we sent in helps you understand the magnitude of the proposed logging — and, consequently, the significant ecological threats posed to this invaluable region of Kananaskis Country.

Spray Lake Sawmills 
305 Griffin Road West 
Cochrane, AB, T4C 2C4 

August 10, 2023 

Dear Mr. Kulcsar and Minister Loewen, 

We are writing to request that Spray Lake Sawmills cancels harvesting planned blocks in the Upper Highwood watershed that are scheduled for 2023 and 2024 and are shown in the Highwood Annual Operating Plan. 

We ask that these blocks be removed from the harvest sequence due to the risks from clearcut harvesting to biodiversity, watershed integrity, and recreational use in this area of Kananaskis Country. 

Over 1,100 ha of clearcut harvest is planned in the Upper Highwood over a two year period in an area of sub-alpine forest in Kananaskis Country between the Elbow-Sheep Wildland and the Don Getty Wildand. This comes after controversial clearcuts by a B.C. company (Balcaen Consolidated Contracting) near Highwood junction were approved in 2017, despite opposition from nearby communities, outfitters, trappers, conservation organizations, and outdoor enthusiasts. 

The Upper Highwood is a key watershed when it comes to flood mitigation, particularly for at-risk downstream communities such as High River. Harvest plans would involve harvest on steep, erodible slopes, increasing flood risk. Spray Lake Sawmills’ own Forest Management Plan outlines how water yield, as measured by the “Equivalent Clearcut Area” metric, 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%1 (at the very top end of the “moderate risk” category, where “high risk” is 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)”. Given the importance of this watershed for mitigating flood risk we believe that clearcut harvesting in this area is inappropriate and should not proceed. 

In addition, the Upper Highwood is a largely untouched wilderness with huge importance for wildlife. 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. The harvest areas also contain or are adjacent to many smaller streams and creeks that are identified as potential critical habitat for the SARA-listed bull trout, which is listed as a Threatened species. Native fish-bearing waterbodies need to have a minimum of a 100m setback from the edge of the riparian zone to protect these species2,3

The harvest is also in the core part of the Recovery Zone for threatened grizzly bear, which 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.”. Furthermore, all the harvest areas are inside mountain goat and sheep areas, which are identified so that land use 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 along Loomis and McPhail Creeks. In 2011, Kananaskis Country supported a total economic impact of $202.5 million4 to the region and use has only increased over time. Allowing clearcut harvest in this area is in direct contrast to the government’s stated goal of more than doubling tourism revenue by 2030 and the intent to diversify the areas that Albertans and tourists are visiting. 

Given the importance of the area for hydrological function, biodiversity, SARA listed native trout species, and recreation, we urge Spray Lake Sawmills to cancel harvesting plans in the Upper Highwood area. 


Katie Morrison
Exeuctive Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta

Joshua Killeen
Conservation Science and Program Manager, CPAWS Southern Alberta

Cc: Shannon Marchand, Deputy Minister – Forestry & Parks 
Daniel Lux, Assistant Deputy Minister – Forestry & Parks 

How to Take Action

  1. If you want to take action, please consider writing a letter, sending an email or phoning your elected officials, including your MLA and the Minister of Forestry and Parks. You can also use Take a Stand for the Upper Highwood’s pre-written letter-writing tool and send in your concerns in less than a minute.
  2. Need help writing a letter? Check out our detailed guide to writing a letter to your MLA.
  3. Already written your letter and ready to take the next step? Learn more on what you can do with our toolkit for effective action.