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Slave Lake Pulp south shore logging plan raises eyebrows
Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Lakeside Leader (Canada) by Joe McWilliams

[LakeNet Note: Great Slave Lake is the 10th largest lake in the world by volume.]

It’s finally dawning on Slave Lake and south shore residents that those pristine hills south of the lake are going to get logged. Slave Lake Pulp and Alberta Plywood have been talking about it for a good year, but nobody much was paying attention.

Suddenly, as of a couple of weeks ago, it seems everybody is talking about it, including Kelly Harlton of Wildside Wilderness Connection in Widewater.

Harlton, who takes tourists out on the lake in kayaks, says, “It’s going to be one big logged over area. The beauty of the Dog Island tour is the beauty of the hills.”

Harlton is particularly concerned about what appears to be “mammoth-size clear cuts” in the Mooney Creek and Sawridge Creek watersheds, according to a map supplied by West Fraser (the company that owns both Slave Lake Pulp and Alberta Plywood). The small-scale map does give the impression that there will be large areas cleared south and west of Slave Lake. It’s an area that is much frequented by off-road vehicle users in all seasons and mountain bikers in the warmer months. Harlton wonders about the impact on them too.

So just what is West Fraser up to in the south shore area? Are they really planning one huge, uninterrupted swath of logging through the country southwest of Slave Lake?

Not exactly. What they are planning is a departure, though, from the traditional method of two-pass harvesting that leaves the landscape looking like a checkerboard. Instead of cutblocks of similar shape and size adjacent to untouched patches of timber of similar shape and size, the new type of harvest planning calls for cutblocks of a great variety of shapes and sizes. The size, shape and location of the blocks will have to do with the stand types (particularly their age) in certain areas. The goal, explains Slave Lake Pulp and Alberta Plywood Forest Planner Richard Briand, is a harvest pattern that emulates natural forest disturbance. The checkerboard type of harvesting imposes an unnatural pattern on the landscape, Briand says. The goal of the new type of harvesting is to better maintain biodiversity and minimize impact on fish and wildlife.

“We think this plan takes a huge step towards that,” he says. “There’s pretty strong agreement that this does a better job of that than the two-pass cut-and-leave system.”

The strong agreement seems to be among the scientists and foresters who study such things. Brian says there isn’t much doubt among the people who contributed to the south shore harvest plan that the new method is the better one. But are some of the cutblocks too big? They look like it on the map, but Briand says the small scale map doesn’t show that there will be plenty of breaks, buffers and patches left throughout the area.

“We’re leaving representative structure behind,” he says. That structure includes forested corridors between larger patches of untouched bush.

Science may support the type of harvesting set out in the south shore plan, but a big cutblock is a big cutblock and they are always ugly (at first) and almost always come as a rude shock to people who are used to finding pristine forest on a particular trail or in a particular view. The company is aware of that potential effect, and wants to do as much troubleshooting ahead of time as possible.

“We want to work with the OHV Club on trail enhancement,” says Briand. “The door is open.” As for the view of the hills from town or from the lake, Briand says the harvesting will be visible. But the plan isn’t set in stone for any of those high visibility areas, and he wants to hear people’s concerns before operations start next year.

“We will try different scenarios in highly visible areas to soften visual impact,” he says. The south shore plan covers an eight-year period. Logging was supposed to commence this winter, but the company is putting it off for another year to give people more time to speak up if they have concerns. That appears to be happening now.

This week the Off Highway Vehicle Club will hear from the company and discuss the plan. Briand mailed each member a copy of the plan summary in recent weeks. Members of the Slave Lake Forest Public Advisory Committee (PAC) have also received the package, and in fact have been getting updates on the planning process for several months.

The PAC meets on the third Wednesday of the month at Northern Lakes College. A West Fraser rep is always there to answer questions. The next PAC meeting is Dec. 17 at 7:00 p.m.


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