The NDP's environment platform in the recent election included a promise to protect the Castle Wilderness Area, in the southwest corner of Alberta, near Pincher Creek. That region has been the centre of a years-long dispute over whether it should be logged or not.
"The Castle was the only conservation area that was specifically mentioned in the platform, so we're really optimistic we can get something done," says Katie Morrison, conservation director for the Southern Alberta office of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Morrison says her organization is looking forward to meeting face to face with the new environment minister in the next several weeks, once the new cabinet is announced. She wants to be certain of the government's policy, behind what was outlined in the campaign platform.
Environmentalists have argued the logging will damage a key watershed area. Grizzly bear experts have also spoken out against the logging, citing irreversible effects on ecosystem function and wildlife habitat quality.
Logging company Spray Lakes Sawmills has the logging rights for the area, but has not operated in Castle since 2012. In the meantime, the Alberta government was finalising a new conservation plan for the region.
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan was released in the summer of 2014. The plan called for added protection of the Castle region, but conservationists wanted twice as much land included.
Logging set to start
Now that the plan is out, the logging will resume this fall and winter.
"We have that on our plan for this year to resume activity," said Ed Kulcsar, woodlands manager for Spray Lakes Sawmills.
The company has a quota for how much it can harvest in the Castle region. The government's Sustainable Resource and Development department decides in which location the logging takes place. The department expects Spray Lakes to cut down about 99,000 cubic metres of logs in Castle, which the government said is the equivalent of the wood used to construct 1,900 single family detached, 1,700 square foot houses.
The company is not sure whether the NDP will take any action to stop logging in the Castle area.
"I don't know, we haven't had any indication from the NDP at this time. It's very early in their mandate," said Kulcsar. "It's our understanding that the objectives for that area have been met."
On several occasions, people have protested the logging operations and lead to arrests by RCMP.
A spokesperson with the NDP says the party will have more to say about the issue once premier-designate Rachel Notley has been sworn in and appoints a cabinet.
"Very curious," said Sean Nichols, conservation specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association, about the NDP's campaign pledge to protect the Castle area. "What will that actually mean? One thing I can say is that we have actually spoken to a number of NDP MLAs over the years about conservation and conservation issues across the province and part of that has focused on the Castle."
Nichols added the party has previously even asked for the association's stance on logging in that area.
Spray Lakes supplies lumber to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The company employs about 200 people at its mill in Cochrane and about 100 people in its field operations.
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