Todd Loewen, the Alberta Minister of Forestry and Parks, has weighed in on the logging concerns in Kananaskis Country.

There are many issues that have been brought up including allowing the logging trucks and equipment the use of Highway 40 during the winter.

Minister Loewen explains why Spray Lake Sawmills is allowed to use 12 kilometres of Highway 40.

"The forest harvest happens during the winter months when the ground is frozen and that's to protect the landscape so that there's no heavy ruts and things like that. And that road being closed is basically closed for recreational use. But for this there will be a unique opportunity for logs to come out of there." 

The sign on the winter gate actually states the highway is shut down to all traffic, not just for recreational use.

"The mountain slopes and valleys beyond these gates are critical to wintering wildlife. Restricting traffic through this area protects wildlife. The road is open when food is more widely available and animals are less prone to disturbances," it reads.

Winter gate sign at Highwood Junction Winter gate sign at Highwood Junction. The logging road on Hwy 40 is 12 kilometres from the gate.

Over 2,700 acres of forestry will be harvested by Spray Lake Sawmills. 

All the harvesting will be done just outside the borders of the Don Getty Wildland Provincial Parks and the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park.  The Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park is also divided into 16 sections within K-Country. Two of those sections border the area on the east and west with the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park bordering the north.

When asked about how and why Spray Lake Sawmills were allowed to build a bridge over the Highwood River during spawning season for Bull trout and Westslope Cutthroat trout, Minister Loewen said that falls under federal jurisdiction. 

"With the bridge, when it comes to the Alberta government, we've been there, we've inspected it and found that the bridge structure is an acceptable structure under their annual operating plans and now it depends on what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans decides on that. A lot of times there's permits required and different things but with or without the permits there's still ground rules and operating plans that have to be done in accordance with the rules that are there. 

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, they have authority under the federal Fisheries Act and Species at Risk Act that pertains to our Alberta native trout and things like that. And so, they can take action if there's any kind of non-compliance and the Alberta government has the authority to stop forestry operations if fish habitats aren't being respected." 

Both Bull trout and Westslope Cutthroat trout are listed as 'threatened species'.

The minister went on to explain the logging background within Kananaskis Country.

"Kananaskis Country is a geographic area, and we have five provincial parks, four wildland provincial parks, we have ecological reserves and provincial recreation areas.  And so, there's no commercial harvest in the parks but the rest of Kananaskis Country falls under the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan as far as forest harvest. And that's an approved use of that land area. The people that do the forest harvest, they have to follow rules and regulations that are set out and they always work with the local people on making it more suitable for more acceptable to everyone involved."

Some concerned citizens have also wondered where the money goes from the Kananaskis Country fees of $15 per day or the $90 annual fee.

Minister Loewen said a lot of money has been poured back into K-Country facilities.

"With Kananaskis obviously we've had record-breaking visitation in the past few years so what we've done is we've put $15.1 million into capital expenditures in Kananaskis just this year. That's in addition to the regular operational funding we spend in Kananaskis. Some of the things we've done is we developed the Spray Lakes west campground, we've provided upgrades to the Grassy Lake day use area and Prairie Mountain Trail and several major trail projects. That K-pass money is being resent back into Kananaskis Country to do a wide range of things."

*Note: We are following up with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans regarding the bridge built over the Highwood River.

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