The provincial government’s approval of clearcutting in a popular recreational area west of Calgary has raised the ire of local residents who fear the move could result in large fluctuations in water levels and potential flooding.

Spray Lakes Sawmills has been authorized to cut a nine square kilometre section of land in the south Ghost area over the next few years.

Dave Richards’ of Saddle Peak Trail Rides believes the increase in logging will have an impact on the picturesque landscape and the bottom line of his family business as he refuses to guide visitors through clearcut land.

“It’s heartbreaking really but nothing stays the same,” said Richards. “It’s going to have a negative effect on our business, there’s no doubt about that, but my concern goes deeper than that.”

Critics of the plan say logging will hurt the local economy and ecology while removing a natural flooding buffer.

“Essentially what we’re doing there is we’re increasing the risk of flooding and reducing our ability to have water in the summer when we need it,” said Kevin Van Tighem, author and conservationist. “You couldn’t do worse for the watershed than to do what’s happening in the Ghost.”

Officials with the mill say flood concerns are misplaced.

“The timber harvesting we do does not impact the flooding,” explains Ed Kulcsar, Woodlands manager, Spray Lakes Sawmills. “There’s been different task force groups that have come together to that same conclusion.”

Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Oneil Carlier, says “everything is within the rules and remains to be sustainable around legislation.”

The majority of logs will be turned into construction lumber while the remainder will be sold for mulch and fence posts.