Slave Lake Forest Public Advisory Committee Notebook

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The Slave Lake Forest Public Advisory Committee held its spring meeting on May 29 at the Slave Lake Legion. Hosted by Slave Lake’s four major forestry companies, it featured presentations on songbird monitoring, forest management from the government side and a Swan River First Nations archaeology program on the north shore of Lesser Slave Lake, plus summer harvest plan reports from the four companies.

Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory

LSLBO Executive Director Patti Campsall spoke about the migration monitoring program so far this spring (more or less average); also about the mid-season breeding bird monitoring program called MAPS. Thanks to bears in the area at the tail end of the program (late August), the plan this year is to knock a week off at the end and start a week earlier. Safety of the workers is the main consideration, Campsall said. It was to start up on June 1, which would cause a short overlap with the spring migration monitoring season.

There’s also talk about building a “bear fence” around the bird studies area in the provincial park, Campsall said. It isn’t going to happen this year, though.

In other news, the LSLBO has recently signed a new five-year funding agreement with Alberta Parks on the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation (BCBC), which is a joint Parks, LSLBO operation. The BCBC is very busy at this time of year hosting school field trips, Campsall said, with schools from all over the region (and even a few from well outside it) taking advantage. She thanked the Lesser Slave Forest Education Society and Alberta Parks for their contributions to the programming, without which it wouldn’t work.

Mills update

The summer harvest plans for the four mills (Vanderwell, Tolko, West Fraser, Millar Western) differed a bit but were similar in a lot of respects. The main similarity is all are attempting to make the most of trees killed in last year’s wildfires. The usability of the salvage wood depends on how hot the fire was that killed them. Some combination of salvage and green wood will be part of the logging program over the next while.
The Tolko rep had some good news from High Prairie. Tolko’s OSB mill – shut down the past couple of years due to a fire – is gradually getting back into production. The first board was produced on May 8.
“They’re still troubleshooting,” said Sherman Horsman, but the re-start is finally in process.

North shore archaeology

The final report was a tag-team effort by Todd Bailey, representing the Swan River First Nation, and Vincent Jankunis of Ember Archaeology, who has been doing a project on the north shore of Lesser Slave Lake for Swan River the past two or three years.

The study is complete, Jankunis said, and a report will be drafted soon. He gave the audience a sneak peak at some of the findings, which paint a picture of pre-historic human activity all along the lake, between Marten Beach to Hilliard’s Bay.

One thing different about the project from the usual type, Jankunis said, is that researchers were teamed up with Swan River members, and their input influenced the work and will be reflected in the report.

Over 1,100 ‘shovel tests’ were done, Jankunis said, and 31 new sites were found (in addition to significant sites already IDed in previous archaeological work, principally by Ray LeBlanc in the 1980s).

Thanks to discoveries of bone and charcoal, carbon dating was possible, showing the sites were in use from as far back as 6,000 years ago up to a couple hundred years ago.

“We’re just scratching the surface here,” Jankunis said.

Bailey, whose title is Director of Lands Stewardship and Environmental Protection for the SRFN, said the north shore is “very important for members of the First Nation.” The band is requesting a buffer of one kilometre along the entire shoreline, to keep it free from logging or other development.

Meanwhile, there’s an agreement (that involves some provincial red tape, Bailey said) to have the artifacts dug up in the project to be displayed at the band office.

Bailey also said SRFN has “higher aspirations down the road,” for its role in land management, which could involve “issuing its own permits.”

Bailey concluded the presentation by thanking Tolko for its help in getting FRIAA (Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta) funds for the project.

“It’s just the start of more work,” he said. “It’s ongoing.”

Fred Sowan of Swan River FN holds an arrowhead, found on the north shore of Lesser Slave Lake.
Photo courtesy of Swan River FN

Wildfire info

Wildfire Information Officer Leah Lovequist was up next. She spoke about the record-breaking 2023 wildfire year in Alberta. It smashed the previous record for area burned, which had been held by 1981 for over 40 years. That year, 1.3 million hectares burned. In 2023 it was 2.2 million.

Forty-one fires from last year were carried over to 2024, Lovequist said – eight of them in the Slave Lake forest area. In other words, they were not considered out, even though they were under control and nothing was happening during the winter. (See more on this above.)

The rain last month was very welcome and slowed down what was looking to be another hot spring, but “we need a lot more rain,” Lovequist said.

Lovequist also spoke about some new technology that is in the arsenal. Night-vision helicopters is one of those things.

“They’re the ones that are probably keeping you up at night,” she said.

Having them means aerial fire suppression efforts can continue after dark.

Two more air tanker groups have been added to the eight already engaged by the province. The new Dash 8 planes carry a bit less retardant, Lovequist said, “but they’re super fast.”

One of the new Dauphin helicopters with night vision capability, at the Slave Lake airport.

Pine beetle

Lovequist also briefly spoke about the mountain pine beetle situation. It appears to be stable enough that for the first time in a number of years, no control measures were taken over the winter months.

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