Honk for Water, Wilderness and Reason

Here is Lorne Fitch’s Op Ed that was printed in the Lethbridge Herald.

Honk for Water, Wilderness and Reason

 Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

A picket line has formed in a peaceful demonstration over logging in the Castle watershed. The Alberta Forest Service (AFS) has selected the beach-head, to begin this assault on the forests of the Castle, on secondary highway 774, just inside the forest reserve boundary, west of Pincher Creek. It is a route thousands take to access the Castle Mountain ski hill, to Beaver Mines Lake and to other recreational sites in the Castle. It is the route to easily the highest visitor use area of any part of the watershed. What seems evident is AFS purposefully selected this most visible site, as a “stick in the eye” to opponents of logging. The message is blunt and unambiguous- the area will be logged despite the concerns of Alberta citizens.

This protest has been building; several things help frame the actions of people on the picket line and elsewhere in Alberta. Among the things that puzzle people is the blatant disregard for existing policy, planning and process. In addition, neither the science, economics or public opinion support industrial scale, clearcut logging.

The overarching intent for the Castle is entrenched in Eastern Slopes Policy. Not surprisingly, to the many downstream communities dependant on water, the prime directive is watershed protection. Alberta Environment has questioned whether AFS has the necessary data, requisite skills and confidence in water quantity modeling to ensure logging doesn’t impact water supply. AFS response is along the lines of “don’t worry”. Many do worry since there is no evidence from any actual monitoring to substantiate this claim.

AFS pushed through the “C5 Forest Management Plan” in 2010. It is not, as the name implies, a plan to manage the forest, but rather a timber harvest plan. The “plan” continues to hew to a dangerous orthodoxy that the only way to manage a forest is to cut it down. Public consultation consisted of a handpicked committee who were led through the motions of participation on the way to a preconceived plan. AFS doesn’t “consult” with the public, it organizes information sessions to tell the public what decisions have been made.

Independent cumulative effects analysis of the Castle shows it to be an extremely busy place with a human footprint already too large to protect several imperiled species like grizzlies, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Logging adds to the existing footprint. Based on Freedom of Information materials AFS stifled the professional input and recommendations received from biologists in the Fish and Wildlife Division for the C5 plan. Any opinions that deviated from the AFS position were dealt with terse direction to “get into line”. Current logging plans have not been designed in the best interests of protecting fish and wildlife populations. Biodiversity protection instead has to rely on the much touted, but rarely tested, timber harvest operating ground rules.

The antithesis of AFS style planning was the Castle Special Place Working group, a true multi-stakeholder group of 34 organizations and individuals committed to protected area status for the Castle. Despite the degree of consensus and agreement achieved by this non-government initiative the desire of AFS to log trumped the efforts of citizens.

What AFS has derailed, with ill advised logging plans, is the reasonable expectation of many Albertans (and majority of local residents) for the Castle to finally achieve a level of protected status. Polls done in 2011 first in Lethbridge and Coaldale, then later in Pincher Creek, Fort Macleod and the Crowsnest Pass, found 80% and 77% of residents opposed to logging in the Castle, respectively. The C5 plan makes a commitment “to be responsive to changing social values concerning sustainable forest management”. The response on the part of AFS to overwhelming public opinion is to ram through the logging of the Castle.

Given this weight of evidence it is not unexpected that people will pick up signs and walk a picket line. It hardly makes them “radicals”. What seems more evident is they are radically representative of the concerns and interests of severely normal Albertans. They do not buy the propaganda the Castle has to be logged for fire protection, beetle control or that logging meets some mythical “international” standard. AFS is clutching at straws (or lodgepole pines) to rationalize logging.  Compared to this the demonstrators seem radically reasonable. Now is the time for the Alberta government to reciprocate their reasoned approach and suspend plans to log the Castle.

January, 2012

Lorne Fitch is a Professional Biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife Biologist and an Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.

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