Report on the Bragg Creek FireSmart Information Session
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD)
on Thursday, August 2, 2012 at the Bragg Creek Community Center
This report is a follow up to other news items on the proposed logging of the popular West Bragg Creek Trails System. A forest management agreement between the Province and Spray Lake Sawmills allows the Cochrane-based company to log in Kananaskis Country under guidelines set by ESRD. Clear cut logging in the West Bragg Creek recreation area was initially scheduled for this summer but has not yet received ESRD approval because of the increasing objections of Bragg Creek residents and the many users of the summer and winter trails network. The many volunteers who raised more than $250,000 and helped build many kilometers of new summer trails are particularly concerned. This August information session follows a packed January Bragg Creek Town Hall Meeting organized by Sustain Kananaskis (www.sustaink.ca) to share the concerns of residents and trail users and to discuss how to save the trail system. In response to calls for more consultation ESRD presented this information session on “the science behind the proposed logging “. This was primarily an attempt to convince residents that their protection from wildfire depended upon logging. Spray Lake Sawmills was not invited to participate and there was no discussion of logging issues per se.
The presentations by ESRD, as well as the comments and questions of the more than 200 in attendance, are all available on YouTube videos and are most enlightening:
Bragg Creek FireSmart Session 1 – YouTube
Bragg Creek FireSmart Session 2 – YouTube
Bragg Creek FireSmart Session 3 – YouTube
Listen to the video of Session 3, the Question Period and you will hear:
- A number of emotional appeals from Bragg Creek residents, trail users, and those in favor of forest preservation.
- Evidence that ESRD has done an inadequate job of interacting with the County (specifically their FireSmart Committee), the residents of Bragg Creek, the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBCTA), and the many trails users from across Alberta.
- Much about the computer model (Prometheus) used to justify the locations of the clear cuts proposed by ESRD in conjunction with Spray Lake Sawmills. Note the many questions concerning the adequacy of this modeling, especially since so few scenarios were actually modeled. The far more sophisticated computer models used in weather forecasting are, as we all know, often wrong.
- You will also hear concern about the absence of anyone from Spray Lake Sawmills. The financial constraints which limit their mitigation of trail damage/repair, and of visual esthetics, and which limit their use of selective logging over clear cutting could not be addressed. Some suggested that ESRD should consider helping in this regard.
- My impressions are as follows:
Over 200 people attended this meeting despite the August date not being the best for most. Was a large turn out really wanted?
Touted as information on the “science” behind the proposed logging, this aspect was quite unconvincing and actually exposed some poor science (eg. the parsimonious use of the “Prometheus” modeling).
The presentation on watershed management failed to address how this proposal would protect the Elbow Watershed and Calgary’s water supply.
It was emphasized that this logging proposal would only buy time for an evacuation and would NOT prevent a wild fire pushed by high winds from reaching Bragg Creek! Hence it was surprising to hear:
- no response to a question about an evacuation plan
- that fire suppression strategies on the large amount of private land between the townsite and the KC boundary were “outside our jurisdiction”.
- that ESRD had had no consultations with Rocky View County’s own FireSmart Committee!
- the Bragg Creek FireSmart Committee was not invited to be part of the panel for this meeting even though they offered to participate.
ESRD presented no creative solutions. Others suggested that ESRD could actually pay the company to selectively log this area so that both FireSmart and trail preservation objectives could be achieved without financial loss to the company.
The old SRD culture which is alive and well in the new ESRD is clearly out of touch with this centuries’ priorities. There was not a single comment on whether health positive outdoor recreation had any value or priority.
In summary I have never seen an entire audience so negative about a plan that is supposedly for their benefit! When asked by a member of the audience for a show of hands, NO ONE supported this FireSmart focused logging proposal. One resident noted that a few years ago SRD cited pinebark beetle control as the reason for logging, a
reason later discredited. Now, wildfire is the reason. It was suggested that perhaps logging was the only true reason?
- Some local comments after this meeting are of interest:
- from SustainK : “The questions from the audience that followed, however, demonstrated that nobody was buying this approach. The science behind the assumptions and actions was seriously questioned. The absence of a communication plan to help residents evacuate was identified. The remarkable dearth of scenarios run through the Prometheus model was underscored, as was the lack of desire to run scenarios around a proposed alternate containment plan that would involve less damage to the trails and forest. The value of the Prometheus model was itself questioned as were the variables that were inputted. Of significant interest is the fact that, despite all the initial talk about the devastation wrought by the Slave Lake fire, the existing plan would sadly do nothing to halt such a fire.”
- from Bruce Barker, Chair, GBCTA Ski Committee: “It should be noted that during the presentations, several speakers suggested that the GBCTA had input and implied that the GBCTA ‘endorses’ the plan. While the GBCTA has provided input several times as to the negative impacts that the cutblocks will have on the trail system, and the containment lines have been reduced, we are not satisfied with either the containment line locations or the proposed mitigations that Spray Lakes Sawmills or ESRD is prepared to offer at this point to keep the integrity of the trails.”
- On behalf of the Alberta Hiking Association (AHA), I wrote a letter (Jan.26, 2012) to Premier Redford about this issue. I followed this up with an e-mail on May 26, 2012 to MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans which was passed on to the Minister of ESRD, Diana McQueen. Her letter in reply (July 31, 2012) provides “information” on ESRD’s Wildfire Management Program. It talks about wildfire mitigation, timber harvesting, Spray Lakes Sawmills extensive public consultations, and the fact that 18 irregularly shaped blocks are not a “clear cutting plan”! Final approval will ” ensure public and stakeholder concerns have been considered” and “our first concern is a healthy forest that can be enjoyed in many ways”. The letter then invited me to attend the ESRD sponsored meeting this report addresses.
- On August 9, three members of Sustain Kananaskis met with Minister McQueen and Assistant Deputy Minister Bruce Mayer. Here is what Peter Tucker of SustainK had to say about this meeting (bold emphasis is mine):
“Mr. Mayer met us prior to the arrival of the minister and proceeded immediately to try to sell us on the wildfire mitigation intent behind the plan. He talked about how the absolute priority of the department was to save human lives and of course the Slave Lake flag was run up the pole several times.
When Minister McQueen joined us, I asked her what her desired outcome from the meeting was. She said she wanted to hear what we had to say. So I told her that it was clear from the August 2 meeting that the community did not buy into the existing plan, that she was likely familiar with most of the problems from the briefing package we had sent and that I preferred to focus on solutions. The Minister seemed amenable to this, so I outlined the following plan.
Survey the Bragg Creek community to determine the desired balance point between wildfire mitigation and preservation of the forest capital.
Create a working group comprised of SRD staff, wildfire experts from other land management agencies and local stakeholders to develop several options that would clearly outline the amount and location of trees to be cut, the projected impact of that logging on trails, watershed, biodiversity and local economy, and the resulting evacuation time for the community.
Take these scenarios back to the community for discussion.
As I spoke, it became clear to the Minister that we were talking about a significant length of time. That caused a problem because, as the Minister stated, SLS needs to log by September, so a process such as I had outlined would not work.
We also spoke about the value of true consultation and about another proposed plan that seemed to be a reasonable alternative. There was some interest in this plan, but it didn’t seem to obtain sufficient logs for SLS. Mr. Mayer talked about how the area was multi-use and thus logging had to be part of the picture but both he and Minister McQueen admitted that the plan was a logging plan from which they hoped to get some wildfire mitigation results by putting vegetative breaks on the landscape. Our challenge to Mr. Mayer that the selection of which of the multi-uses will be favored in a conflicting use situation comes down to a question of priority was ignored. Mr. Mayer did admit that SLS may not have done the best communication job and that, although his department was happy with the “consultations” done to date, clearly the community was not. Although these were significant admissions, we don’t know how much movement we are going to get. Mr. Mayer is supposed to get back to us with an alternative consultation plan that has to be carried out by sometime in September.
Minister McQueen seemed very set on the fact that some logging was going to happen and that SLS had to get their fibre. In their minds, multi-use is the excuse that allows everything to happen on the landscape, but there is little thought given to segregating conflicting uses, especially when logs or fibre are at stake. By the end, Mr. Mayer had softened his “ESRD knows best” party line and was making notes on how they might proceed. Minister McQueen seemed to believe that impact on trails was the “big one” that needed some kind of resolution.”
So the latest position of the Alberta Government is clearly business as usual. The “new” ESRD is no different than the old SRD. Their priority is “Resource Development”. The highest priority is still timber harvesting/ tree farms/ fibre collection. “The plan” we have all been occupied with has always been a “logging plan”. Watershed protection, environmental concerns, pine bark beetle and wildfire mitigation, as well as health-promoting outdoor recreation are never a priority. No real consideration is given to the very different priorities of Albertans, especially those who expend their sweat and money for the common good. As long as logging remains the number one objective of ESRD and this government, we have no hope of achieving a compromise, never mind a policy where health-promoting outdoor recreation trumps logging in only a small portion of Kananaskis Country.
- I encourage everyone to ask this “new” PC government to live up to its “new vision” and consider revising old priorities to reflect those of 21st �century Albertans. Make your views known to the Premier, and her Ministers. Write to:
- Premier Hon. Alison Redford
Office of the Premier
307 Legislature Building, 10800 – 97 Avenue, Edmonton, AB, T5K 2B6
- Deputy Premier Hon. Thomas Lukaszuk
408 Legislature Building, 10800 – 97 Avenue, Edmonton, AB, T5K 2B6
- Minister of ESRD, Diana McQueen
204 Legislature Building, 10800 97 Avenue, Edmonton, AB, T5K2B6
Phone: (780) 427-2391
- Minister of Tourism Parks & Recreation, Hon. Christine Cusanelli
229 Legislature Building, 10800 97 Avenue, Edmonton, AB, T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-4928
- Minister of Health, Hon, Fred Horne
208 Legislature Building, 10800 97 Avenue, Edmonton. AB, T5K 2B6
- Premier Hon. Alison Redford
Submitted by Maurice Gaucher
Chair, Coalition of Calgary Seniors’ Outdoor Clubs
Director, Alberta Hiking Association