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Alberta launches legal action against logging protesters

Government enforcement actions against citizens opposed to logging in a world famous Alberta watershed will likely cost taxpayers more money than total timber revenue.

"This is clearly an example of government waste," says Gord Petersen, a local resident and member of the ad hoc Stop the Castle Logging Group.

"The Alberta government has responded with a massive enforcement effort against mostly senior citizens trying to respect water and wildlife," adds Petersen.

Since Jan. 12 scores of protestors, including grandmothers and two 77-year-old ranchers (all supported by thousands of Albertans), have sought to prevent the removal of 3,750 truckloads worth of timber by Spray Lake Sawmills from the core of the Castle wilderness area. The region is located south of Crowsnest Pass along the BC border.

Local foresters estimate the logging permit will generate no more than $100,000 worth of income for the government from stumpage fees and that only 60 per cent of the timber slated for cutting can be turned into dimensional lumber.

"That revenue won't even cover the damage to the public roads," suspects 56-year-old Petersen. "It's welfare logging that benefits a private company at the expense of the public interest."

After peaceful protestors stood in front of logging machinery last week on a public road, government officials issued a flurry of legal paper including a development notice, a trespass notice, an enforcement order and now a court order.

The RCMP, members of Alberta's Sustainable Resource Development, logging contractors and Spray Lake employees have all arrived on the scene together.

The enforcement order, which the group is appealing as an infringement of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even banned protestors from occupying or using "any other public lands in the Province of Alberta unless otherwise authorized to so."

"That's pretty draconian," says Petersen.

The Castle region, located near Waterton National Park, is famed for its clear mountain streams, biological diversity and grizzly bears and has been the subject of conservation battles for years.

Polls consistently show that majority of southern Albertans want the rich watershed protected as a special park. In particular conservation groups have supported the establishment of the "Andy Russell I'tai sah kop Parks" to honor both the region's aboriginal heritage and its biological richness.

The Alberta government, however, responded to the public initiative by granting a logging permit in grizzly bear habitat. In doing so it willfully ignored advice from scientists and biologists.

Conservationists suspect the government wants to make the region an industrial site and therefore destroy the park initiative.

"The logging permit put a stick in the eye of the public," charges Sid Marty, a local conservationist and one of the nation's most celebrated wildlife writers and story tellers.

Premier Alison Redford told the Calgary Herald last week that "this is an issue where we have to balance environment and economic development."

Tyee regular contributor Andrew Nikiforuk owns land in southern Alberta and has fought to preserve fescue grasslands and watersheds in the eastern slopes for years.

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