Castle area logging halted by Alberta government

With logging activity set to resume in the Castle Wilderness Area in southwest Alberta for the first time in several years, the province's NDP government acted on one of its campaign promises and announced a complete stop to all commercial forestry activity.


The provincial government is also putting a stop to all new oil, gas and mining activity in the area.

"It was a platform commitment," said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips at the announcement in Blairmore.

"We take that as our guide. We take those commitments that we made to Albertans very seriously." 

Phillips says the NDP has wanted to protect the area for many years while it was an opposition party.

"Feels good to change the government doesn't it," she said to a loud cheer from those attending the announcement.

Castle logging halted by Alberta government1:01

Spray Lakes Sawmills exploring options

Logging company Spray Lakes Sawmills is disappointed by the decision.

In the coming months, Spray Lakes was set to cut down about 99,000 cubic metres of logs in Castle, which the government said is the equivalent of the wood used to construct 1,900 single family detached homes with roughly 1,700 square foot of space.

"We believe that what we're doing in terms of our operations.... We can do those and still protect the environment at the same time, and yet provide jobs and opportunities," said Ed Kulcsar, woodlands manager for Spray Lake Sawmills.

He says the company is looking over its options during the 30-day consultation. 


Entrance to a logging site in the Castle Wilderness Area (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

"Our hope is that we'll be working with the government," said Kulcsar.

Phillips described Spray Lakes as a responsible company that will continue to be a good partner for the government. As for whether the province will compensate the mill for ending the contract, Phillips says that at this time that's not necessary.

"I've been around this issue for a long time," said Phillips. "I took this issue to heart with respect to standing up for economic development in southwest Alberta, making sure we get it right with sustainability and also with respect to our water supply."

But the opposition Wildrose Party says today's decision chips away the rights of property and business owners.

The province says there will be "a prohibition on surface rights access for any new petroleum and natural gas leases." In addition there will be "no new tenure will be sold for extracting metallic, mineral, coal or surface resources."

Existing leases and tenures will be respected, as well as existing grazing permits.

"With the NDP ending new natural resources industries in the Castle [area, the] Wildrose can only hope the development of the tourism industry can offset the economic impact of these decisions," said Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, who has the Castle area within his riding, in a release.

Conservationists rejoice

The area, near Pincher Creek, will be protected with two designations — an expanded "wildland provincial park" and a new provincial park. 


The Castle Wilderness Area is an important habitat for grizzly bears. (Alberta Environment and Parks)

The new protections come after a dispute lasting years over whether the area should be logged or not.

"It's something so many of us have worked so hard on for so long," said Gordon Peterson, an area resident and member of with the Castle Crown Wilderness Association.

A wildland park offers additional protections when compared to a provincial park, and are "specifically established to preserve and protect natural heritage and provide opportunities for backcountry recreation," according to Alberta Parks.

The area covers nearly 104,000 environmentally diverse hectares and is a major wildlife corridor for many animals, include grizzlies.

"It's good news for all of Alberta. It's good news for the wildlife that live in that area," said Sean Nichols with the Alberta Wilderness Association. "It's good news for  biodiversity across the province. It's good news for everyone who uses the Old Man and South Saskatchewan River."

It is also culturally significant to First Nations, and is part of what is known as the Crown of the Continent where Alberta, B.C. and Montana meet.

Clarifications

  • Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says she has been advised compensation for the change is not necessary, as opposed to saying there will be no compensation.
    Sep 04, 2015 4:54 PM MT