A logging proposal has a conservation group worried about the potential impact on caribou habitat and endangered trout.
West Fraser has submitted a Forest Harvest Plan Compartments Berland 3 and 16, which are areas in the northwest part of the Forest Management Area (FMA) between Hinton and Grande Cache.
The operations are scheduled to start next month and will harvest 54 cutblocks.
“As responsible resource managers, we follow government direction to ensure that our harvesting plans occur in approved areas are informed by science and reflect the many forest management values including caribou, wildlife habitat and water quality among others,” said Heather Colpitts, spokesperson for West Fraser.
West Fraser has been directed by the government to operate in a specific area and away from the other areas within their FMA until the Berland Sub-Regional Taskforce completes its work on the caribou recovery.
“Caribou recovery is a complex issue and their recovery and well-being touches each of us,” Colpitts said.
“Our revised harvesting plan reflects specific interim harvesting guidelines developed by the Alberta Ministries of Environment and Parks, and Agriculture and Forestry to guide forest operations to areas that are low-use by caribou and have a history of past disturbance. The province’s direction to operate in these areas as an interim measure to allow harvesting and protect jobs and caribou while the taskforce completed its work.”
According to the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), the logging will remove a forest that is sheltering an endangered Athabasca rainbow trout stream.
AWA added that the logging will also impact a caribou and native trout recovery options and prolong reliance on controversial annual wolf culls.
In addition, concerned trappers have only seen logging plans for two “compartments” overlapping their Fur Management Area.
These trappers were the ones who informed the AWA and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) of the plans going on.
“You’d be hard pressed to think of a worse place to cleaver in Alberta right now,” said Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation director.
“If Alberta can’t pause logging in six per cent of West Fraser Hinton’s tenure area that overlap with caribou range until it’s promised sub-regional plan is finished, there is something deeply and drastically wrong with forest management here.”
West Fraser says that their activities in this area are consistent with direction from the Government of Alberta regarding operations in the caribou range.
This is also an area that has been subject to a gauge forest operation in the near past.
Harvesting there, with plans that manage for a full range of values such as riparian zones, is seen as an example of how timber harvesting can be accomplished to support range protection and recovery while supporting economic activity.
The current upcoming logging overlaps with the winter range of the A La Peche caribou. This range is already heavily impacted by forestry activities.
West Fraser has consulted stakeholders such as local Indigenous peoples, trappers, recreation users, the general public, local governments and others over the past two years on the submitted general development plan.
“We continue to make information available and are available to speak with groups such as a recent open house help by the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation (AWN),” Colpitts said.
The AWN had no specific objections to the plan with the caveat that West Fraser follow government direction on a sequence area.
Ali Howat, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh