BRAGG CREEK – Public engagement with the proposed draft of the Spray Lake Sawmills 2021 forest management plan is seeing a call to balance timber harvest in the Bragg Creek area with supporting the region's trails and tourism sector.
Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin said she is pleased to see Spray Lake Sawmills are “gung-ho” to expand operations, but cautioned that she has heard concerns from residents in the Bragg Creek area.
The top issue has been where the plans for expansion are and the potential effect on the Bragg Creek and West Bragg Creek trail network.
“I think we have to find the right balance of ensuring we can allow our forest industry to grow and mature, while also ensuring that our tourism industry, which is largely supported by that trail network here in Bragg Creek, is also protected," she said.
The tourism industry in the area has grown by about 350 per cent over the last few years, Rosin said.
She noted the forestry industry has been in place for decades in the area and is one of the biggest economic drivers in the region, but the growing tourism industry needs to be taken into account.
“Finding the proper balance is what’s most important,” Rosin said. “I’m confident that we are going to find a way to balance both the needs of the forest industry with our local tourism industry.”
Spray Lake Sawmills vice-president of woodlands Ed Kulcsar said the forest management plan under review by the province and public has been in place for 20 years.
Included in the draft is the operational plans for the public to comment on, which is part of the long-range plan looking to the future by 20 years based on models of timber harvesting that ensure work in the area is sustainable.
The plan was released for public review on June 5. The forest management plan has been under development for several years and the public review plan has been evaluated and approved by the government of Alberta.
Forest management plans are required to be completed every 10 years under the current provincial regulatory requirement. The plans include details on how trees on Alberta Crown land can be sustainably harvested.
The process of reviewing the Spray Lake Sawmills forest management plan began in 2015.
“It’s important to gather what those interests are, as well the public has knowledge on areas that may be unique for one reason or another, so its important for us to know where those unique areas are as well,” Kulcsar said. “It’s to make sure we're aware of the interests out there and then what we can do is we can try and accommodate those interests through different mitigation type strategies.”
He said designated trails recognized by the Alberta government will be kept intact after logging is complete, but there may be a temporary disruption to paths as the work is going on for safety reasons.
“The one thing that may be gone in proximity to the trail is some of the trees – the experience might be changed, but the trail itself will be left intact," he said.
Potential trails that could be impacted by the logging in the Bragg Creek area within the next 10 years include Race of Spades, 7-27, Pneuma, Fullerton Loop, Bobcat, Snakes and Ladders, Ranger Summit, Sugar Mama, Sugar Daddy, Strangebrew, Snagmore and Elbow.
Owner of Bragg Creek and Kananaskis Recreation Shaun Peter said the growing popularity of recreation in the area has created conflict between users and Spray Lake Sawmills.
“Recreation has become insanely popular and continues to grow,” Peter said, explaining that it makes it difficult for harvesting operations to coexist with trail users.
The proposed plan will transform the landscape for essentially the next century and needs to be examined closely to ensure the effect is as minimal as possible, Peter said.
He added the areas affected by the proposed logging are under the management of the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association and the Moose Mountain Bike Trail Society. Both areas have exploded in popularity and had millions of dollars invested in the development of the trails.
In 2018, the West Bragg Creek parking lot had more than 108,000 visitors.
“This proposal, what they’ve shown, is going to affect a whole bunch of the trails that they’ve just built through a million-plus dollars,” Peter said. “A lot of them were just built within the last decade.”
Moose Mountain Bike Trail Society board member Laura Mislan said the major issue surrounding the plan is finding the balance between maintaining the trails for users while allowing the logging.
The area has been transformed since the last forest management plan was put in place, she said, explaining that mountain bike trails have rapidly popped onto the scene – many of which have been authorized by the government.
“In the last 13 years a lot has changed, there has been a ton of new trails added to the area,” Mislan said. “We have an expanded usership; there’s tons of people out there. There’s tons of people getting active.”
In 2019, Moose Mountain saw an estimated 3,000 individual riders, and more than 6,000 accessed the West Bragg Creek area.
Mislan said she hopes Spray Lake Sawmills can find a way to work around user trails so people will still have access and that when the plan is presented the government takes users into account before approval.
Tied into this growth in users has been an investment and the biggest concern with the latest mapping is the impact the logging will have on Race of Spades and 7-27 trails.
“7-27 is one of the most popular trails on Moose Mountain. It sees thousands of riders throughout the season,” Mislan said.
The trail was machine built and made possible in part by a government grant provided in 2015 to the tune of about $30,000, Mislan said.
“I’m not anti-logging, but it wouldn’t make sense to me to see those trails damaged or out of commission during or after the logging,” Mislan said. “It’s not about the logging – how it will look. I just don’t want those trails shut down.”
The Spray Lake Sawmills online public input on the 2021 forest management plan draft ends on July 21. Visit spraylakesawmills.com/woodlands/forest-management-planning/ for more information or to provide input on the proposed plan.