Recent Press Coverage

October 23, 2012

Logging to be halted in Castle wilderness area, http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/Logging+halted+Castle+wilderness+area/7384421/story.html

Battle for the Castle, http://www.calgaryherald.com/Battle+Castle/7421657/story.html

Tensions linger over Castle wilderness logging, http://www.calgaryherald.com/technology/Tensions+linger+over+Castle+wilderness+logging/7424889/story.html

Off-road users and campers causing damage in Castle area, http://www.calgaryherald.com/travel/road+users+campers+causing+damage+Castle+area/7429497/story.html

Castle logging stopped, http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/news-views/news/castle-logging-stopped-9902/

Province to halt logging in Castle after completion of Spray Lakes project, http://www.pinchercreekecho.com/2012/10/11/province-to-halt-logging-in-castle-after-completion-of-spray-lakes-project

Castle logging project halted, http://www.lethbridgeherald.com/front-page-news/castle-logging-project-halted.html

Positive signs on environment front, http://www.lethbridgeherald.com/opinions/positive-signs-on-environment-front-102012.html

Red Alert for Castle Watershed, http://www.pinchercreekecho.com/2012/09/18/red-alert-for-castle-watershed

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Press Release, October 12

October 23, 2012

Note: While this is a positive development, and a step in the right direction, we’re “not out of the woods yet”! SLS plans to cut 3x as much timber this year than last, and the year 2 and 3 logging plans are only put on hold while the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan is being considered. We have a long way to go before we can be sure the logging has been stopped for good.

Castle Logging Halted 

Albertans applaud decision to stop logging in protected area 

October 12, 2012

Pincher Creek, AB – A decision this week by the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development to put a hold on logging in a protected area in Southern Alberta has community members and conservationists applauding. On Wednesday, October 10 the Pincher Creek Echo ran a story that has now been confirmed with calls the office of the Minister Dianna McQueen: years two and three of clear-cut logging in the Castle Special Place are being put on hold pending the outcome of the ongoing South Saskatchewan Regional Land Use Plan.

“This is a very positive turn of events,” says Peter Sherrington, a resident of nearby Beaver Mines, and a member of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC). “The Minister has done the right thing by halting future logging in the Castle until the land-use plan has been finalized.”

Logging by Cochrane, AB based Spray Lake Sawmills in the Castle, designated a protected area under the Special Places 2000 in 1998, began last winter, and was met by the longest protests on an environmental issue in the province’s history. It culminated with four local citizens being arrested after they and dozens of others braved minus 30 temperatures to protest the clear-cutting.

Logging will take place in the Castle this fall, but will be limited to an area accessible by the existing roads built by Spray Lakes last winter. This logging will complete year one of the three-year logging plan. Spray Lake Sawmills will then decommission the access road.

The Castle Special Place is a 1000 square kilometer region located north of Waterton Lakes National Park and is part of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. The area is critical habitat for elk, grizzly bears and the endangered bull trout, and is the headwaters for 30% of the Oldman River drainage. “Logging is not the best way for the Castle Special Place to be managed. Permanent protection will result in far greater economic opportunities for places like Pincher Creek, Beaver Mines and the Crowsnest Pass,” said Sherrington. “People want to live and work in beautiful places, and the Castle is one of the most beautiful regions in our province, and in the Crown of the Continent.”

“The Minister has made a good decision, and we’re pleased to give credit when it’s due,” says Sarah Elmeligi from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “Our long term goal remains, however: we want the Castle permanently protected as a combination Wildland and Provincial park as was the intent in 1998.”

While the Minister has halted logging slated for years two and three of the current three year logging plane, cutting is still scheduled for this fall. The Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition will be in court on November 1, 2012 to challenge the permit granted to Spray Lake Sawmills and try and win a reprieve for the Castle from logging this autumn.

For comment:

Peter Sherrington, CCWC (403) 627-3522

Sarah Elmeligi, CPAWS Southern Alberta, 403-688-8641


News Release: Red Alert for the Castle Watershed

September 4, 2012

Red Alert for the Castle Watershed

For Immediate Release: Lundbreck, Alberta, September 4, 2012

All summer long, local artists have been exploring dramatic, yet playful, visual concepts designed to focus attention on the logging and other resource issues in the Castle headwaters, southwest of Pincher Creek, Alberta.

The concept, titled Red Alert for the Castle River Watershed, contrasts red and brightly-coloured forms with the natural landscape of the Castle River, and the Castle Special Place. “The idea is to make a striking statement about the relationships between the human and natural worlds, and to draw attention to some of the issues that have put the Castle River Watershed on Red Alert”, explains Barbara Amos, a spokesperson for the artists.

Of immediate and pressing concern is Spray Lake Sawmills’ clear-cut logging in the heart of the Castle Special Place. Designated a protected area, the Castle Special Place is considered core grizzly bear habitat and a vital “water tower” for the Oldman River Basin. Yet clear-cut logging began in February and is scheduled to continue over the next three years despite significant public opposition.

“We’re trying to make the point that although the situation is dire, it’s not too late to stop the logging and limit the damage”, says Amos. “It also reinforces the fact that, although some logging has started, the defenders of the Castle have not simply given up and gone away.”

The Red Alert artists invite everyone to come up with their own Red Alert images, to be uploaded to the Red Alert for the Castle River Watershed Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/CastleHeadwaters.

Hundreds of people from more than 17 countries have now viewed the Red Alert Facebook page, and more artistic contributions are coming in all the time.

The artists involved in Red Alert for the Castle River Watershed plan to continue to spread the word that the Castle headwaters are on Red Alert, while having some fun at the same time.

Artist’s Statement for Red Alert

by Barbara Amos, Amos Art Projects

Perception is the essence of making images. We all see the same physical world, yet we all perceive it through a personal filter. At what point do we depart from a literal recording of what we see? If we are going to create another view of something that has been done many times, how do we do it so that it adds a new idea to the conversation? If we are going to paint a landscape, do we understand the history behind previous landscape painting? Do we know the current debates? Can we add something that takes the conversation further and adds something new to the discourse? This is the edge that moves the creative endeavor into new territory and keeps it relevant to the next generation. It is not an issue of subject matter, or style, or materials. It is an issue of perception, that ability to absorb the milieu of the times, to be open, to perceive and, with that information, to create.

My artwork begins with a place in the real world, and a perception of a moment that seems “loaded”. From this point, the path is frequently a detour and always the process, the journey, is the place of creation. The end result, the painting, the photograph, the event, or the sculpture, is a recording of that process.

There are many places in our Canadian landscape that are worthy of thoughtful attention. The place that holds my attention is in Southern Alberta, along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and specifically, the watersheds that begin the river systems that flow across Canada, through Alberta and Saskatchewan, and on to Hudson Bay. These watersheds unite all of us along their path. At the Crown of the Continent, from where I do most of my work, these waters are at their most pristine, and of spectacular clarity and beauty.

All the people in the community that help me create these photographs are concerned about the threats to this watershed. We all work in various ways to communicate these concerns to the government. This is hard and tiring work, and we need an element of levity to sustain and restore us. We have fun making these images, and hope that they engage a new audience with these issues. I have set up a Facebook site so that participation is open to whoever might like to join us, in person, online, or in a sharing mode.

Metaphors are the basis of this work. Look at these images and think about celebrating the river; bringing a party to the river with the river as the guest of honour; water as a sacred right belonging to all; water, which needs our guardianship; mandalas which are a made in the spirit of uniting the cosmos; bringing the participants together in a common unity; water as a source of joy on a beautiful day; and water without which there is no life.

These photographs create metaphors about caring for our watersheds. They are part of the Canadian tradition of seeing the land as the focus for a work of art.

Red Alert For The Castle Headwaters is at: http://www.facebook.com/CastleHeadwaters

 

Red Alert For The Castle Headwaters Images, Photos by Barbara Amos

The Guardians

The Guardians

Celebrate the River

Celebrate the River

Curtain

Curtain

Mandala

Mandala

Red Shore

Red Shore


In Memory of Rick Collier

August 20, 2012

When out in the Rockies, be it valley, ridge or peak, please raise your water bottle in memory and thanks to Rick Collier who died on a climb of Mount Geikie in Mount Robson Provincial Park last Wednesday when part of the mountain gave way.

Irrespective of which conservation group, if it was a call to action to protect the wilderness, Rick could be counted on to be there to help for as long as there was work to do.

There were numerous wilderness and parks campaigns he was an irreplaceable part of over the decades; be it keeping Willmore Wilderness Park as roadless wilderness back in the late 1970s, keeping the wilderness of the west Spray Lakes area intact in the 1990s (became Spray Lakes Provincial Park) or most recently keeping clear-cut logging out of the Castle Special Place / Special Management Area, Rick was a knowledgeable and dedicated volunteer for the wild.

He knew the places through his hiking boots and from the peaks.  And I could always count on him to get the call for help out to the climbers and mountaineers; most recently the Old Goats Climbing Club that he helped organize.

Can’t say it better than his son did for the media: “You don’t climb that many mountains or get behind that many things when you’re not fully committed … There’s people who are there for the movement when it’s the thing to be behind … He was the guy who was there way before that and hung around way after that. He was in for the long haul.”

Dianne Pachal
Calgary, AB


August 15, 2012

Release Date: August 14, 2012 

Castle Logging Decision Ignored Fish and Wildlife, and Alberta Public

 

Details Revealed in Newly-released Freedom of Information Documents

 

Newly-released documents reveal that the Alberta government’s decision to go ahead with deeply unpopular clearcut logging in the Castle Special Place, west of Pincher Creek, Alberta – despite widespread public opposition – was made by Forestry staff in a seeming vacuum. Fish and Wildlife staff were given minimal opportunity for input, and documents show that input was ignored. Extensive public opposition to the logging, which saw rallies, a protest camp and even arrests, was also discounted.These are some of the findings revealed in documents recently released under a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) application by Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA).

“This doesn’t sound like the behaviour of a government that listens to Albertans. These documents point to an Alberta Forest Service that feels it can make its own decisions without listening to anybody else,” says AWA conservation specialist Nigel Douglas. “The decision has been made to clearcut log and nothing is going to stop that: never mind the impacts on water quality or grizzly habitat or sensitive fish habitat, and never mind the huge public opposition and even internal government concern.”

“It is shocking that the enormous outpouring of public opposition to the logging plans barely created a ripple in the Forest Division’s plans,” says Gord Petersen of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition. “The documents show no record of the Castle as a Special Place, nor any mention of massive public opposition to the logging.”

“Local residents and conservation organizations have said for many years that the values of the Castle Special Place reach beyond simple timber value,” says Sarah Elmeligi of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “In 1998, the Castle was protected to provide healthy headwaters and clean drinking water, wildlife habitat and low impact recreation opportunities. Now in 2012 Albertans are showing their concern   that these values have not been adequately provided for. That’s why Alberta Fish and Wildlife had concerns about logging this protected area; concerns that were ignored by the Forestry Division of SRD.”

Environmental groups will be meeting with Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development on August 23 to discuss the Castle. There is some optimism that a renewed government commitment to openness and transparency will also reflect a renewed commitment to respect the critical environmental values of the Castle.

The complete FOIP document can be seen at http://albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlands/areas-of-concern/castle/archive-1/2012-07-02-castle-logging-foip-information

For more Information:

Nigel Douglas, Alberta Wilderness Association: (403) 283-2025

Gord Petersen, Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition: (403) 627-3732

Sarah Elmeligi – Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society ‐ Southern Alberta: (403) 688‐8641


In the Bedrooms of the Bull Trout

August 15, 2012

In the Bedrooms of the Bull Trout

 Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

The tug upstream seems inexorable, an urge not to be denied or ignored. Up bull trout swim, from the wide expanses of river, from the comparative security of deep pools and boulder-choked riffles. Upstream, against a rapidly increasing current, in a channel that narrows and gets shallower. Upstream, where water temperatures drop perceptibly and the medium becomes so clear fish appear to be suspended rather than immersed.

Streamlined, appearing much like a baseball bat with fins, bull trout move in a timeless migration. Their destinations are the spots where each emerged from the stream gravels some five to ten years earlier. Each survivor has bulked up substantially. Nothing escapes them; suckers, mountain whitefish, big stoneflies and the occasional mouse, vole and snake. To get big you have to eat big.

Bull trout are the ultimate aquatic predator, at the top of the watery food chain. Think of them as scaled grizzlies, with gills. Nowadays a big one might top out at four kg. In earlier days, remembered still by elderly anglers, a big one might stretch over a saddle and dangle nearly from stirrup to stirrup. In the waters of their spawning tributaries these giants would only be partially submerged.

Their movements upstream are anything but random. The magnet that pulls, attracts them, is the unique combination of cool ground water bubbling up from some subterranean reservoir through gravels shaped from the persistent grinding action of erosion. Context here is everything. It takes a watershed, not just a stream, to meet bull trout needs for the biological imperative of replacing themselves.

Forests, generally of the old growth variety, with thick underlays of absorbent mosses capture and store snowmelt and rainfall. This water, the unheralded treasure of forests, slowly is entrained below the surface. There it is then meted out just as slowly to add to streamflow. That these streams flow in the winter when all else seems frozen is the magic of this unseen supply of water. Bull trout appreciate it more than we seem to, for their eggs are deposited in the gravels in the fall and survival is dependent on this interplay between surface and ground water.

The seeps and springs are not often obvious to our eyes. What was obvious to early hunters, trappers and anglers was the autumn splashing of female trout absorbed in moving gravels. Around them, like teenagers at a high school dance, the males vied with each other for position. Often these fish were of a size that the shallow riffles couldn’t provide enough depth. Heads, fins and backs would protrude into the alien environment of air. To be successful in the dance of sex requires bull trout to comprehend the nuances of water movement, depth, velocity and changes during the time of egg incubation. The combination must be one of hydrological experience and clairvoyance.

From the memories of early outdoorsmen a faint picture of bull trout ecology and abundance emerged. More detailed biological investigations, done recently, have validated early observations of bull trout migration and favored destinations. Alarmingly, more comprehensive inventories have shown diminishment in bull trout populations generally and extirpation of some.

In the Oldman River watershed bull trout are missing from 70% of their former range. Historically trout populations (both bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout) were to be found as far downstream as present day Lethbridge. A combination of overfishing and dramatic habitat shifts pushed these populations into the far reaches of the Oldman watershed. Even there, in isolated spots there is no security from persistent land uses that continue to threaten their existence.

I get to play fisheries biologist again, for a few days, on one of the ongoing inventories of bull trout in the upper Oldman watershed. This work, done jointly by the Alberta Conservation Association and Fish and Wildlife, represents the systematic collection of good data to inform better land use decisions. On a late and crisp September day I pull on my chest waders and accompany Matthew Coombs, the only fisheries biologist for southwestern Alberta. On paper Matthew has a small area in which to ply his trade- just the entire headwaters of the Oldman watershed from the US border to the boundary with the Bow watershed. It reminds me, painfully, of the minimal priority placed on fish by the province of Alberta.

Matthew warns me the waters of Hidden Creek, a tiny and seemingly insignificant tributary to the upper Oldman River, are very cold. Fresh snow ices the peaks of the continental divide and frost coats the ground. None of this registers until my feet desert me on the slick boulders and I stick an arm in the water to steady myself. The water is numbingly cold. As I wring out my shirt sleeve I marvel at creatures that make this glacial medium their home.

Hidden Creek enters the Oldman River tumbling over bedrock and boulders. Not much wider than I am tall, it joins the larger river discretely, without fanfare. It seems to fit its name well. Before a logging bridge over the Oldman River provided easier access a watery moat kept the creek secure, free from all but the most persistent explorer. The headwaters of the stream wrap themselves around the base of Tornado Mountain, the highest peak of the southern High Rock range, part of the continental divide. Hidden Creek’s watershed is not untouched, but at most is only nibbled at with old seismic lines and small clearcuts in the shadow of Tornado Mountain. Compared with the logging footprint in drainages to the north and south, Hidden Creek looks relatively pristine.

Except, of course, for the mouth of the valley, where a large clearcut focuses the eye as Hidden Creek enters the Oldman. Walking from the marginal buffer of unlogged forest adjacent to the stream into the clearcut is like a trip from soft broadloom to a city sidewalk. One is soft, spongy and shaded; the other hard, unyielding and bright. The buffer seems like an administrative abstraction rather than a logical solution to protecting water quality. How can we think the answer is to parcel the landscape into discrete, unrelated bits when all work together in unity? Bull trout might see this industrial dismemberment of the landscape as reductionist and an anathema.

A fence of aluminum rods directs fish into a mesh trap. The materials of the trap are modern but the technology is of the Stone Age. One bull trout has been fooled by the labyrinth. We net it and anesthetize it with clove oil- a similar formulation has been used for generations to sooth the pain of toothache in humans.

The gills open and close, breathing in the aqueous tranquilizer until the fish no longer struggles and is quiescent. Scarred from life in a turbulent environment it is as long as my arm and likely heavier than it as well. Matthew gently squeezes along its sides and announces it is a spent male, probably returning from earlier action. Using the equivalent of a grocery store scanner Matthew determines it has an imbedded chip- an identity device- from an encounter with another fisheries biologist. Like a can of corn this bull trout has a number and few secrets. The world of electronics has taken much of the mystery out of the lives of wildlife. Conversely, the use of technology has sensitized us, with better data, to issues of species biology and survival, especially those critters hovering on the edge.

Measurements done the trout is placed in a tub of fresh water and gently rocked back and forth. The anesthetic wears off quickly. Holding him to recover, he seems like 100% muscle, arching and twisting in my grip, displaying a power disproportionate to size. On return to the stream, with a disdainful flip of his tail he disappears downstream amid the turbulence. I have touched and connected with a creature that represents the outcome of 10,000 years of trial, error, adaptation and evolution. It fits here perfectly.

One bull trout does not a story tell though. The number of bull trout that seek out Hidden Creek to spawn does. Extensive trapping over a two year period by the Alberta Conservation Association indicates that amid all of the tributary streams Hidden Creek is the hands down bedroom of choice for nearly 8 out of every 10 bull trout. Hidden Creek is the epicenter for about half of all bull trout reproduction in the upper Oldman River watershed. We may not understand all of the virtues of this one tiny stream, but bull trout do.

Yet, a population cannot afford to put all its eggs in one basket or, as is the case for bull trout, in one stream. Bull trout have hedged their bets, over time, by spawning in a number of streams in the upper Oldman. By spreading out, disaster in one stream is compensated for by success in another. The choices have narrowed however. In the upper Oldman the list of streams that attracted spawning bull trout has shrunk by at least three since the late 1950’s. The quality of many of the remainder is dubious.

Dutch Creek, the next downstream tributary to the Oldman is a river by comparison to Hidden Creek. Despite its size less than one out of 10 bull trout choose it as a spawning destination. In Dutch Creek the stories of big bull trout and many of them from the dusty archives stored in the memories of elderly anglers are hard to square with today’s reality. Dutch Creek (and its near twin, Racehorse Creek) are watersheds checker-boarded with clearcuts. A little cyber trip on Google Earth shows the footprint of logging in these watersheds to be extensive.

The history of large scale, commercial logging dates back 60 some odd years, following construction of the Forestry Trunk Road. In many respects, this trail, with an initial rationale for forest protection from fire lit a fire storm of resource exploitation that hasn’t cooled yet. Extracting the wealth of our forests is a largely one way affair; resources go out and the legacy of their removal lingers to haunt subsequent generations. Past generations of bull trout had to contend with poachers using a variety of contrivances. Angling isn’t the issue of today. What is troubling today is the change in landscape integrity and stream quality from decades of industrial (and recreational) use.

We slip on our chest waders again to count bull trout redds in a reach of Dutch Creek. Redds are the “nests” bull trout mothers excavate in the gravels. First on their minds is the selection of an appropriate spot, an inscrutable science to we who live in air, not water. What seems evident is the female must sense the presence of an intergravular flow of water. That flow is crucial to provide oxygenated water to the incubating eggs and to flush away metabolic wastes. Additionally, that flow must persist throughout the overwinter incubation period until the eggs hatch in the spring. This explains why ground water is so key to bull trout.

If the water-witching is successful the female then turns on her side and with a vigorous wave-like undulation of her body and tail uses a hydraulic shock wave of water to dislodge stream bed gravels and cobbles. This blast of water flushes away sediment and creates a depression. Into this depression she lays some of her eggs, attended to by a randy male who completes the conjugal unit. The process is repeated, moving upstream, covering the previous excavation and creating a new one for more eggs. Over the course of this the female will move several times her own weight of gravels and cobbles. Counting these redds provides an indication of population size; monitoring year to year helps gauge population trends.

This is one of those clear, bright blue days of Indian summer. Snow capped peaks give evidence the summer season is ending but the day tells the lie it will persist. Dutch Creek is clearing; a rainstorm the previous day clouded the water with sediment. What happens in the uplands of a watershed inevitably follows the fundamentals of gravity. The footprint of disturbed land, the clearcuts, roads and trails, continues to bleed sediment and even a slight rainstorm mobilizes that sediment.

We walk upstream, in the channel, looking for the telltale signs of redds- oval signatures of stream gravels cleaned of their patina of algae and silt. On reach after reach I mentally challenge myself to discern the signs that would indicate a bull trout would find the place pleasing. So many of the reaches seem to have the right stuff; suitable water depth, sufficient velocity, appropriately sized substrate and overhead cover. But we find few redds.

Stymied, we consider the reasons for trout rejection. The gravel holds a clue. It is solid under our feet and when we probe it with our measuring sticks it yields only to excessive force. Despite the appearance of being clean it takes a human scaled effort to excavate a depression. This is not the usual loose, friable substrate where a step leaves a footprint behind. Alarmingly, this is pavement, aggregate cemented together with an outward appearance of a roughed surface. Without pickax or jack hammer no trout could penetrate this stuff.

The count for a six km wade is a disappointing 10 redds. In Hidden Creek nearly 10 times as many redds were counted in a four km stretch in 2008. None of this is surprising when one connects the dots between land use and fish populations. Logging, the predominant land use has a greater impact on streams than on forests because of the long term nature of effects in and on streams. A subtle and less evident change is in runoff- both the amount and the speed of delivery. For a species like bull trout that are reliant on ground water, subtle shifts in hydrologic response from forest harvest is a problem.

The connection between logging and streams is less subtle when roads are considered. The scientific literature abounds with information on the effects of logging and associated roading on trout populations. Roads funnel, streamline and contribute to sediment delivery.  It is evident that wherever studied the impacts are real, measurable and negative.

A clear conclusion, across the research is that as road densities (and the number of stream crossings) increase, the proportion of streams that support strong, healthy populations of trout diminish. All aquatic species have adapted to periodic disturbance but roading increases sediment delivery sometimes by an order of magnitude greater than the natural background levels. But, sediment delivery is just the tip of the problem.

Decades of research in experimental watersheds shows only a fraction of the sediment eroded will work its way downstream, out of the stream system. Measurement in the usual short monitoring period consistently underestimates sediment yield from land use.  Much, especially the bedload sediment is stored in the streambed and within the substrate. Researchers term the residence time for that sediment as “centennial” time. There it lingers, migrating downstream as little as a few meters a year to perhaps a kilometer a year in larger rivers. Mike Miles, a fluvial geomorphologist, calls it “a slow moving train of sediment”.

The impacts are neither fleeting nor transitory. As the sediment settles in for the long haul it reduces the depth and quality of pools. Less evident is the infilling of the interstitial spaces between the gravels, where trout eggs incubate and insects (the building block of fish flesh) live. As it infiltrates the gaps some of the sediment bonds, effectively cementing together the substrate materials. This cemented layer, which may extend down some distance into the substrate, becomes resistant to periodic flushing flows. Reduced permeability of the substrate, the ability of water to percolate up or down, becomes another impact on bull trout. Like tar in a smoker’s lungs the accumulated sediment squeezes the life out of streams.  So the forest may regrow quickly but the legacy of logging will persist as an influence on streams and all the aquatic creatures over centennial time.

Work done by biological consultants on the cumulative effects of access roads in the upper Oldman watershed indicates the problem faced by bull trout (and westslope cutthroat trout). In 1950 there were 177 stream crossings in the entire upper watershed. By 2001 this had ballooned to 2803 crossings. Most of the upper Oldman watershed had, in 1950, a very low density of crossings- from 0 to 0.5/km². By 2001 only a tiny fraction of the watershed (notably Hidden Creek) had such a low density of crossings. Dutch and Racehorse creeks have stream crossing densities that range from two to more than 4/km². The road densities for Dutch and Racehorse creeks exceed any threshold recommended for the continued survival and viability of bull trout by a wide margin.

We may have inadvertently doomed trout populations in logged watersheds to a slow, drawn-out and anticlimactic end, like a candle finally burning out. The overwhelming and unfortunate legacy of landuse decisions and their cumulative effects will haunt these watersheds until the last native fish slips away and all that remain are ghosts. Without an ecosystem approach and more balance in decisions about land use soon we might be arguing over the last bull trout. By then it will be too late. Watersheds with an extensive logging footprint need quick remedial actions and mitigation involving road closures and rehabilitation if native fish are to be saved.

We should be using bull trout as an indicator, an icon of the health and integrity of our headwaters. Their continued presence and increasing abundance would provide a strong signal we know how to manage these vital watersheds. And, to many of us who see bull trout (and all native species) in that context it is about sense of place, centuries old. Bull trout know place, know how to return home and they know where they came from. All they require of us is to acknowledge their presence and needs as well as share the watershed with them in ways that don’t contribute to them winking out of existence.

Sadly, our industrial focus for the Forest Reserve is not far removed from the pursuit of buffalo hides and tongues; the resource economy of logging is equally simplistic, rapacious and blind. It would appear the decline of bull trout provincially and in the Oldman watershed has slipped beneath the consciousness and conscience of the land manager, the Forest Service. In the words of David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club, it is as if “the relationship of everything to everything else and how it is not working is so comprehensive no one can comprehend it”.

Splashing up Dutch Creek puts into sharp focus the treasure that Hidden Creek represents. To log the Hidden Creek watershed, to liberate sediment for decades to come, to turn the stream into a small facsimile of Dutch Creek (and others) seems retrogressive. Neither the Forest Service nor the timber industry have yet demonstrated the soft, sensitive, careful touch required to maintain bull trout habitat and to keep sediment from streams.

In the case of Hidden Creek the cost of repeated mistakes in timber harvest is too high to let them keep trying. Pierre Trudeau, the bogeyman for Alberta, once famously said, “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. To paraphrase that, logging has no business in the bedrooms of the bull trout.

July, 2012

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


News Release: Protest Continues over Castle Special Place Clear-cut Logging

May 12, 2012

For Immediate Release: Beaver Mines, AB, May 11, 2012

May 10 Protest. Photo: Robin Pisko

May 10 Protest. Photo: Robin Pisko

Braving a bitter north wind and snow flurries, some twenty protestors rallied outside the Spray Lake Sawmills’ open house in Blairmore, Alberta on Thursday, May 10.

“We wanted to let Spray Lake Sawmills, the Forest Service, and the public know that even though some clear-cut logging has already occurred in the Castle Special Place we haven’t given up or gone away,” explained Nancy Tripp, one of the protestors. “We want the logging to stop, and for the Castle to be protected as a Wildland Park.”

The Castle area, southwest of Pincher Creek, Alberta, was declared a Special Place in 1998, but remains the only one of 81 Special Places that has not yet received its final protective status.

Public opinion polls conducted in early 2011 show that more than three-quarters of the residents from the Crowsnest Pass to Lethbridge oppose clear-cut logging in the Castle Special Place, and that a similar number would like to see the Castle protected as a Wildland Park. A Community Values Assessment done by the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative (SASCI), released in March 2012, had similar findings: “…the strongest opposition among residents was for increasing opportunities for motorized recreation (OHVs, dirt bikes, etc.), allowing clear cutting of the Castle Special Management Area, and subdividing land currently used for agriculture.” [Emphasis ours.]

Individuals, groups, and business owners worked for over two years to try to prevent the logging. This culminated in a three-week protest in January at the site where logging was set to begin. Several protestors were arrested and/or banned from accessing public land in the province. (Proceedings have since been dropped.) Logging started after a Court Order compelled the protestors to leave.

Once the logging started, and having little other choice, a group of individuals plus the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition initiated a Judicial Review of the logging license, and the logging itself, in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary. At court date has not yet been set.

“Many of the folks who were out today were also out in January when it was down to  –35°C”, said Gordon Petersen. “It’s a testament to their tenacity and their passion for the Castle that they haven’t given up the fight.”

“Having said that, we have better things to do than protesting, and taking the government to court. We’d be delighted to work with the new government to stop the logging and to get the Castle properly protected.”