Re: “We must protect waterways,” Stephen Legault, Opinion, Jan. 7.

There has been a lot of talk about our headwaters recently – and that’s a good thing. The very lifeblood of our communities deserves the best stewardship we can give it.

Alberta’s forestry producers commend MLA Cameron Westhead for his efforts to pass a motion in the legislature to recognize the importance of headwaters and discuss what we can do to manage them for future generations.

In a recent column, Stephen Legault added his perspective to the conversation. There is no questioning Legault’s passion for our environment, but when it comes to his recommendations for how forestry on the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rockies should be handled, he’s simply barking up the wrong tree.

Legault has openly called for a ban on “clear-cut logging” from the Ghost River to the Montana border. This recommendation ignores decades of research that goes into forest management practices. The cut blocks that Legault has labelled clear cuts are scientifically developed to mimic natural processes such as fire.

Cut blocks are also laid out in a way that maintains animal habitat, preserves water quality, and promotes regeneration of the forest. Moreover, harvesting and regeneration practices promote a healthy mix of tree age and species in the forest. The reality is that, in Alberta’s forests, fire is the main ecosystem driver.

Older stands of trees naturally burn and a younger forest is then able to grow. In a heavily populated and trafficked area like the eastern slopes though, large-scale fires in the forest can be dangerous. Hence, harvesting practices that emulate fire are a reasonable alternative.

And make no mistake, areas that are harvested must be regenerated by law. In 2016, members of the Alberta Forest Products Association planted 74 million trees. That’s an average of more than two trees for every one harvested.

When it comes to water and forestry, Alberta is far from the Wild West. There are a host of well thought out and heavily researched operating rules for forestry companies that ensure harvesting practices protect water. A rigorous water monitoring program confirms that these practices are effective.

As MLA Westhead pointed out in a recent radio interview, the forest sector goes above and beyond to follow these regulations and ensure a healthy watershed. Doing so is in our long-term interest, both as companies and as human beings who use that watershed to live.

Good stewardship of our forests is not limited to water. As Premier Rachel Notley acknowledged in a speech to the investment community, Alberta is “globally recognized as a responsible, sustainable operator, with 77 per cent of our forests internationally recognized through third-party certification.”

This means that not only is Alberta doing forestry the right way, we’re also doing it in a way that is globally leading.

Finally, Legault’s recommendation ignores the thousands of Alberta families who make their living from forestry. Forestry has supported communities throughout Alberta for generations. It’s a way of life that is closely tied to the land and has survived only because of the conviction of those who work in the sector.

Right now, there are 18,000 Albertans who work directly in the sector and another 38,000 who make their living providing equipment, consulting expertise, road building, supplies and a host of other services. Reducing the land base that forestry operates on would imperil these jobs at a time when Alberta’s economy needs all of the support and diversity that it can get.

In the meantime, the forest sector is committed to working with all Albertans to protect our water. And there are things that we can do, including using off-highway vehicles only in designated areas, respecting wildlife, and continuing to support research into our watersheds.

Paul Whittaker is the president and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association.