The Grand Council of the Crees is considering intervening in the high-stakes Canada-U.S. trade war over softwood lumber.

Crees are considering filing an application for intervenor status in support of the U.S. Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports.

The coalition, which represents major U.S. timber companies, is accusing Canada of wiping out its own forests so it can flood America with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized wood.

The U.S. firms say they can’t compete and are being driven out of business.

The coalition has petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department for duties as high as 76 percent on Canadian wood. That could cost Canada $8 billion a year.

The U.S. says Canadian wood gets lots of hidden subsidies, like poorly enforced and weak environmental rules and ultra-low stumpage fees (a kind of tax logging companies pay to cut on public land).

Crees identify another hidden subsidy: the fact that so much wood comes from First Nations land without the consent of Native people or any compensation.

“The federal government doesn’t respect its treaty obligations, and that is a form of subsidy,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council.

“The fact that our treaty and Aboriginal rights are ignored and our culture ard the environment are being destroyed is a form of subsidy.”

Namagoose said Crees will probably file their intervention with the U.S. Commerce Dept, in late April.

So far, environmental and First Nations issues haven’t gotten a lot of attention in the trade dispute. Politicians and journalists have mostly focused on the angry diplomatic rhetoric and trade questions.

But many forestry experts say the Americans are right – Canada’s environmental protections are so poor they are like a subsidy. Our forests are so heavily over-exploited, they say, that Canada’s $19-billion forest-products industry could one day soon run out of quality trees and collapse like the Atlantic fishery. Some experts see the trade war as a blessing in disguise, hoping it sparks a needed debate.

“The Americans are right,” said Pierre Dubois, a Quebec forestry engineer. “They are confirming what Canadian environmentalists have been saying.”

Chief Arthur Manuel, spokesman of the B.C. Interior Alliance, agreed: “These trade subsidies are outrageous. They’re illegal and unfair and the antithesis of free trade.”

“The discourse has been limited to the big, bad Americans beating up on Canada again,” said one Cree forestry expert. “The position taken by the government is that of the industry. There hasn’t been any public discussion.”

Luc Bouthillier, a forestry economist at Laval University, said Canada does worse than the U.S. in setting aside protected areas from development. The worst culprit is Quebec. Another problem – especially in B.C. – is low stumpage fees, he said. “Those types of debates force us to improve.’