Castle logging in prime grizzly bear habitat
Thursday, Mar 15, 2012 06:00 am
While the logging occurring in the Castle special place may seem well removed from the Bow Valley, it has wide-ranging implications for grizzly bears and their ability to move on the landscape.
Logging operations in the area north of Waterton Lakes National Park began at the beginning of February after protesters were arrested on a court order and removed from the site.
Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition president Gordon Petersen said as one of Alberta’s 81 special places named in 1998, it is supposed to be a protected area and that is where strong opposition to logging stems from.
As a special place, the Castle is core grizzly bear habitat and part of the species’ recovery zone since it was listed as threatened in 2010 and is part of the Oldman River basin. The area being logged is also the heart of recreational activities in the area, according to Petersen.
“Castle-Crown logging would have a detrimental affect on the watershed, wildlife, recreation and on wilderness-based businesses,” he said, adding opinion polls show more than 75 per cent of the regional population opposes the logging. “But it doesn’t seem to matter to the forest service.”
After a three week protest at the site, four protesters were arrested on a court order to cease their blockade of equipment, including Petersen and award-winning author Sid Marty.
Marty said he was protesting because of the project’s unpopularity with Albertans who believe protecting the watershed and wildlife habitat is more important than logging.
When the bulldozers started up, he said, he was one of four people maintaining a presence for the protest.
“It just so happens I was there,” he said. “We chose to remain there because I guess we were thinking of all the work done to safeguard this area… either you back down or you stand up; so we chose to stand up because we didn’t see any other choice.”
The province later agreed not to go forward with charges against those arrested and others named in the court order after an out-of-court agreement was reached between the parties at the end of February.
Marty said he has spent his career working to protect park lands, especially as they relate to grizzly bear habitat, first as a warden and later as a writer.
The Castle area is well known in conservation circles as a mortality sink for the species, with an unsustainable death rate of 2.8 bears per year over the last three years.
Marty said Alberta, and in particular the Castle, is where Montana grizzly bears go to die.
“We have been trying to get this thing set down as a wildland park for years and years,” he said. “It is supposed to be there to preserve our natural heritage and they are going to clearcut log it.”
Wendy Francis, program director with Yellowstone to Yukon, said the Castle area is part of a larger landscape called the crown of the continent that is for the most part protected by Waterton National Park in Canada and Glacier in the U.S.
She said many animals like wolves and bears travel the landscape that spans areas where they are protected, but in the Castle they are quite vulnerable due to the growing number of access roads and motorized vehicle use.
Francis said with an already low grizzly bear population in Alberta of under 700 animals, any deaths are not good for the population and the Castle is known to be a place where bears are dying more often than not.
“It is like a black hole that sucks in bears and kills them,” she said.
The Castle-Crown area is located quite close to the eastern edge of the Yellowstone to Yukon region.
Pedersen said the group will continue to fight the logging in court despite the fact the province has ignored all public opposition to the project, which the government has the right to cancel at any time.
“As far as we can tell, there are not any good economic, social or environmental reasons to be logging in the Castle,” he said, adding only 60 per cent of the lumber being harvested is suitable and will be used as wood chips or fence posts. “It is a quota and can be cancelled – there are lots of other places to log that are less contentious.”
Jim Pissot with the Wild Canada Conservation Alliance said the province, by allowing clearcut logging, has failed to protect key grizzly bear habitat as is set out in the species’ recovery plan.
But even further, he pointed to requirements of logging activities to protect bears, and specifically black bears at lower elevations, in their dens from logging activities.
The requirements set out that denning sites should be mapped and avoided during industrial activities, but Pissot said Sustainable Resource Development lacks the resources to do this work.
“What we have here is the illusion that bears are protected, but in reality there is no research, no surveys, no data collection and no protection of any kind in place,” he said.
Pissot said there is clear evidence that logging activities in winter affect black bear dens and in the case of the Castle, it is up to machine operators for Spray Lakes Sawmills to stop work and report the wildlife activity to officials.
But even if that happens, he contends, the damage is already done because bears will not return and if they are females with cubs in the den, those cubs will likely die.
Even if rescued, Pissot said, in Alberta conservation groups are forbidden from rehabilitating bears.
Furthermore, he said, after clearcut logging, the slash piles created are where bears also tend to set up winter den sites until those are set on fire. Pissot said he is concerned for black bears in the region as a result of the logging activity.