Logging the Ghost Part 1: Clear-cutting sparks flood worries

WATCH: Residents of the Ghost Watershed are calling for a moratorium on clear-cut logging in the area. Some believe an accelerated logging plan could make Calgary’s next flood even worse that 2013. Sarah Offin has part one of this special series.

CALGARY – Residents of the Ghost Watershed, an area west of Calgary, are calling for a moratorium on clear-cut logging in the area. Some believe accelerated logging plans could make any future floods much worse than the disaster that struck in 2013.

The Ghost Valley watershed is the source of about 10 per cent of Calgary’s drinking water, and 30 per cent of the water volume in the Bow River as of June 2013.

“In Calgary in 2013, we literally had like a four-hour notice and we saw how quickly the rivers rose,” said Calgary Councillor Brian Pincott.

“So it would be foolish to disconnect clear-cutting from flooding.”

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Spray Lake Sawmills started logging in the Foothills in 1943 with cross-cut saws and skid horses. The operation has changed dramatically over the decades; in 2007, clear-cut logging began in the Ghost Valley.

“We look at the science involved around sustainable forest management,” said Spray Lake Sawmills’ Woodland Manager Ed Kulcsar. “We have a very good track record of sustainable forest management.”

But others are concerned about the scope and pace of clear-cutting in the watershed. The planned 20-year harvest of 900 hectares, for example, will now be cut in just two years.

That’s led to a group of Ghost Valley residents to take its concerns to city hall.

“Clearcut logging not only increases flood magnitude, but it has a two-to-four-fold increase in flood frequency,” said resident Gordon MacMahon.

Pincott says it’s “foolish” to ignore land use practices upstream of Calgary when considering flood mitigation plans. But forest management is a provincial issue, and something the new NDP government says it’s reviewing.

“Our government is focused on building the economy and creating new jobs in a diversified and sustainable way,” said a statement from Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry spokesperson Mike Long. “That means taking potential unintended consequences, such as increased flood risk, into consideration.”

But Spray Lake Sawmills says it’s done its own scientific analysis.

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“We’ve done the work and we are confident that we aren’t impacting water quantity to the degree that would affect flooding.”