01/24/2012 05:57 EST | Updated 03/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta government officials dismantle camp of logging protesters

PINCHER CREEK, Alta. - Provincial government officials have broken up protesters who were camping out in southwestern Alberta to try to stop logging in a foothills recreation area.

The protesters had been blocking logging trucks owned by Calgary-area forest company Spray Lake Sawmills for almost two weeks.

The Castle Mountain area was once designated by the province as a "special" site needing environmental protection.

Anti-logging residents say taking down trees in the area will hurt tourism, disrupt the watershed and destroy core grizzly bear habitat.

Protesters want Premier Alison Redford to stop logging until there's a better protection plan, but she has said she won't step in.

The premier said in Lethbridge on Monday night that logging less than one per cent of the trees in the area is good for economic development.

"I'm not going to intervene...because we have a forest management agreement in place and two-thirds of the land is protected," Redford said. "We believe that one-third of it matters for economic development."

She said the protest is now a legal matter.

Almost two dozen businesses that have signed on in opposition are asking people to contact Redford with their concerns.

"When I see the people come and the large toys that they are hauling with them, the sleds, the trailers, the all-terrain vehicles, obviously they're coming there to play, and they're not coming there to play in stumps," Rebecca Holand, co-owner of a general store in the nearby hamlet of Beaver Mines, told a news conference in Lethbridge on Tuesday after the protesters were evicted.

"They're coming there to play because of the beauty that's around there."

Sarah Elmeligi with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said the matter is not just an environmental one.

"The issue with the logging in the Castle special place is not just an issue of ecological importance," she said. "There are local businesses that will be directly impacted by this action and are concerned about their long-term economic viability."

Holand said 90 per cent of her business at her store comes from tourism.