Cree trappers in the Chapais-Chibougamau area are facing hundreds of dollars in fines if they use snowmobile trails that cut across their traplines.

A Waswanipi trapper got a $500 fine recently while going to his trapline. If he doesn’t pay, he can lose his driver’s license and the fine could go up.

The trapper was traveling along a network of hundreds of kilometres of snowmobile trails in Cree traplines maintained by the Quebec Snowmobile Federation.

Crees and non-Crees alike have to join the federation to use the trails. The fee is $140 per year for those with their own insurance, and $170 for those without.

That includes one 88-kilometre trail that was built and is owned by the Mistissini First Nation. This trail, which connects Mistissini and Chibougamau, is patrolled by the Chibougamau snowmobile club.

The trail was built to promote tourism, but now it’s off-limits to Crees who aren’t members of the snowmobile federation.

The only exception is for tallymen with traplines near the trail. They get a special sticker giving them access. Other trappers from those same traplines or Crees out for an afternoon ride have to pay.

Mistissini tourism planner Mike Prince, who was involved in building the trail, said the band tried several years ago to figure out a way to give a pass to other trappers.

But the negotiations with the Quebec Snowmobile Federation didn’t go anywhere. “No one kept up on the file,” he said.

“The system is not perfect,” he acknowledged. “Yeah, maybe tallymen should get five or six passes (to hand out to family members). That’s where maybe things have to be looked at.”

Over at the Grand Council of the Crees, officials are frustrated. They raised concerns about the trails years ago, saying the trails were being built without impact studies. Also, they were concerned that Crees would be denied access.

Bill Namagoose, executive director, said the Grand Council is set to take legal action to defend the Waswanipi trapper. “We take it very seriously. We don’t want our hunting rights interfered with by snowmobile regulations,” he said.

“We think the James Bay Agreement is paramount over snowmobile club regulations, especially when a trapper is going to his trapline. The agreement says we don’t have to have licenses or permits.”

The Grand Council is advising anyone else with a fine to call them and they’ll take the case to court.

Namagoose said the Grand Council is negotiating with Transport Quebec to get an exemption from the fees for all Crees.

Meanwhile, Prince said the snowmobile federation volunteers who patrol the trails usually let “real trappers” go without a fine. “If he’s not speeding or joyriding they don’t really mind. The ones they are after are those with touring or racing machines,” he said.

Prince said tallymen who don’t have a pass or helmet should avoid the trails. “Go on the side of the trail or in the bush. You have to understand there are other people on the trails too.

When they see people with no passes, they ask how come I have to pay for a pass and he doesn’t?” he said.

Prince added, “I would be surprised (if a real trapper got a fine). What (the Waswanipi trapper) probably got was a rookie volunteer.”

Mario Lebrun, president of the Chapais Snowmobile Club, said no pass means a $100 fine; no insurance means a $340 fine.

His club’s area stretches out to Desmaraisville and includes trails around Ouje-Bougoumou. The fines apply in Category I and II land too, he said.