There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.
Yet, as “it” gradually pulls into sharper focus, what becomes apparent is the winds of change are in the air. What change these winds bring has yet to be felt. At the ground level outside Cochrane, however, you get a glimpse of where they may be headed.
A small group of people (approximately 50) gathered in a Ghost Valley forest about 30 kilometres northwest of town. They came in their sport-utes and well-worn 4x4 pickup trucks. They greeted each other warmly and with respect. Words were spoken. People embraced.
They were, in some measure, tearing down cultural barriers that define but hamper our capacity to interact as fellows – re-working perceptions that weaken the stitches in the fabric of our common bond.
The First Nations people of Stoney Nakoda had been summoned to help the Ghost Valley community with its concerns about clear-cut logging practices in the Ghost watershed. The Stoney’s generational wisdom, and resolve, was being sought on how to manage, treat and respect the land.
Together, they hiked into the woods scheduled for harvest (cut block 2766 in the larger Block 9 timber licence) by Spray Lake Sawmills (SLS) of Cochrane.
Surrounded by lodgepole pine and white spruce slated to be felled, sitting on blankets on the cool, tree-needle and moss-covered ground, the Bearspaw tribal elders held a pipe ceremony to show their support for land “owners” and their quest for further consultation on logging practices in the area. Sage smouldered at the centre of the circle and in the pipe as it was passed while an elder spoke in his native tongue during the ceremony.
They were coming together to rally against a common foe. Some insist that foe is SLS.
Rather, this common adversary is more likely the clear-cut harvesting guidelines set out for woodland/sawmill operators like SLS to follow.
A conscientious participant in a highly-regulated industry, SLS is merely a player in the larger resource management game – and they play by rules which allow for the removal of broad swaths of trees in a short period of time. The rate at which new-millennium harvesting machinery can sever 100-year-old trees from their connection to the ground is both awesome and alarming. Depending on terrain and tree-trunk circumference, according to the U.S. Forest Service, a single feller-buncher can harvest 100-300 trees an hour. In the Ghost, it equates to approximately .25-.4 hectares of clear-cut per hour. That’s trees cut, limbed (stripped of branches) and placed in tidy log bundles for loading onto trucks.
It’s the industrial nature of these harvesting methods created and approved by stewards at Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development – and the vast, empty spaces remaining where 1,000s of trees once stood – that have Ghost Valley residents seeking guidance and assistance from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. In the face of a common foe, they are banding together to seek a different (some would say better) way to manage this “sustainable” resource.
The issue is complex. It involves land use, resource sustainability, economics, law and, most recently, the discovery that divergent cultures have a responsibility to each other and their shared connection to the land.
This is where the boots are now hitting the damp, chilly ground on the Ghost Valley forest floor. Together, they are taking the first steps in their collaborative effort. Where it ends up, only time will tell.