The Towns of High River and Okotoks are requesting a moratorium on logging in Southern Alberta.
Both were approached by the Calgary Climate Hub (CCH) with a letter requesting signatures of support for a pause on a planned logging project from Spray Lake Sawmills.
The project would see the company harvest 1,100 hectares of Kananaskis Country forest and has seen opposition from several groups in Alberta, particularly due to the claim that the project was accelerated from 2026 to 2023 in a matter of months.
CCH outlined five reasons behind the call for a moratorium, which include potential negative impacts on the Highwood Watershed, harm to several threatened species, a lack of engagement with First Nation Communities, harm to Kananaskis Country despite the province's stated goal of protecting the region, and a claim that "Spray Lake Sawmills does not have a proven track record of restoring clearcut areas in the timeframe that demonstrates the forest is regenerating."
Letters outlining the concerns were submitted to Okotoks and High River's town councils, with a request for signatures of support.
Okotoks and High River Mayors Tanya Thorn and Craig Snodgrass have both signed letters supporting a logging moratorium.
High River's letter, sent on Oct. 23, is addressed to the CCH in support of their request for a moratorium and all five of the concerns they highlighted.
The Okotoks letter, sent on Nov. 24 and addressed to Alberta's Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Minister Rebecca Schulz, only makes reference to potential impacts on Southern Alberta's watersheds. The letter also requests not only a moratorium on logging in Southern Alberta, but also a review of the Forest Act in relation to water management.
Jenny Yeremiy, the CCH member who represented the group to both town councils, says the water issue is the CCH's primary concern.
"There's lot of scientific evidence to show that when you clearcut near a river basin, you have debris, so as soon as there's any major snowfall or rain, you'll get tremendous debris that will incorporate itself into the river system. It's been proven to decrease flow and potentially impact the volume of the water in the river itself. The other piece is that we would be exposing all of that land to direct sunlight, which could also accelerate the evaporation of groundwater flow into that river as well."
CCH is just one group that has been speaking out against the project, with others including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Southern Alberta Chapter, Take a Stand for Kananaskis, and Land Lovers.
Much of the outrage around the logging project centres around the construction of a bridge crossing the Highwood River in Kananaskis Country.
"The bridge construction occurred without the Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) providing the permit for that bridge to go through... It's my understanding that the application for the bridge went in to the DFO after the construction was complete... It also was built within the bounds of a river and it was done during a spawning time," says Yeremiy. "All those three things in combination, to me, should have caused a stop work order. Why can a licensee just continue to operate while not following the guidelines of where bridges should be placed in terms of species at risk?"
A statement on Spray Lakes Sawmills' website calls claims that they installed the bridge without a permit incorrect.
"SLS has heard that DFO may be looking into the Highwood Bridge installation so we cannot comment on it specifically. In general, DFO permits are only required if a project proponent is unable to protect fish and fish habitat while conducting their works," the statement partially reads.
Yeremiy sees these processes aren't as rigid as they should be.
"This is the challenge with the self-regulation that's expected of parties, quite frankly. Once you're in a position where you have to decide what rules you follow and put those forward, it gets really difficult for companies to understand when they should be doing those things and when they shouldn't. That's, I guess, giving them a little bit of benefit of the doubt."
She says having the two towns' support the notion of a moratorium is encouraging, especially with the urgency these advocacy groups are feeling given how quickly the logging project has been moving along.
"To me, it demonstrates tremendous leadership and understanding of this issue from the key municipalities. Eden Valley, High River, and Okotoks are the first and foremost that would see and understand this problem. To me, it takes the voices of mayors like Thorn and Snodgrass for people to pay attention for our ministers to pay attention... We need community leaders to demonstrate that we have a serious challenge ahead of us and we need to take serious action."
The CCH has reached out to seven municipalities in total, with two having shown support, two having received the letters as information, and three still outstanding.
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