Forestry companies all over Quebec are at least six months late filing their cutting plans as required under Quebec law, acknowledge provincial officials.

Many companies are 18 months overdue, including some logging in James Bay.

The lack of cutting plans has some experts worried logging companies may take advantage of the lack of plans.

“There was a delay in filing, yes,” said Louise Accolas, spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Guy Chevrette.

Accolas didn’t know how many companies are late. She said the companies will file the five-year cutting plans “by the end of 1999.” Accolas refused to provide more information, demanding a list of questions in writing. She didn’t return subsequent calls.

But another official said many companies will miss the new deadline, too. Yvon Bouchard, chief of the ministry’s regional office in Chibougamau, said the last plans won’t be filed until March 31, 2000.

A forestry economist who has worked for the Quebec government said some companies may be tempted to take advantage of the lack of cutting plans.

The new cutting plans are supposed to be more sensitive to sustainable development, said Luc Bouthillier, a forestry economist at Laval University.

But some companies could try to cut more before the new cutting plans come into effect, said Bouthillier, who was a provincial appointee on the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment.

“The real masters of the forest industry are the shareholders. They don’t care about good forestry.

“It’s possible that the pressure for profits may justify decisions under the (existing) rules that won’t be justified under the new rules,” said Bouthillier.

Indeed, the government has just released figures that show loggers have dramatically increased their cutting in Northern Quebec. The volume of wood cut in Cree land was so high in 1997 it exceeded the maximum set by the government.

At the same time, fines levied against forestry companies for violating government regulations fell from a total of $675,000 in 1995 to less than $50,000 in 1997.

Quebec law requires forestry companies to file five-year cutting plans as part of their license to cut down trees.

Bouchard said provincial law allows the government to revoke a forestry company’s license if it doesn’t file its five-year plan on time, and the company can be ordered to stop cutting trees.

But the resources ministry is allowing the companies to keep on cutting across Quebec, including on Cree land.

A lawyer for the Crees said there doesn’t appear to be anything in the law that allows the late cutting plans: “I haven’t found any sections that said they were allowed to do that.” The companies have not received any official extensions from the government.

The delay means the companies are also late filing their 25-year cutting plans, which are also required under provincial law. The 25-year plans are supposed to be updated at the time the five-year plans are renewed.