The Algonquins of Barriere Lake (ABL) say they will be suspending most logging operations in their territory after the federal government unilaterally cut funding for an innovative co-management forestry project.

The Department of Indian Affairs notified the community 140 km north of Maniwaki in July that it is cutting funding of approximately $1 million for the Trilateral Agreement, a pact between Quebec, Ottawa and ABL to complete an integrated resource management plan. The Barriere Lake community gave their leadership a strong mandate August 14 to end logging operations that have yet to complete a harmonized management plan.

According to ABL policy advisor Russell Diabo, a regional Indian Affairs official suggested the community use its capital fund – reserved for housing, infrastructure and electrification – to fund the agreement. “There’s already been quite a bit of work done,” said Diabo. “So it’s all quite curious.”

The funding cut jeopardizes the $40 million forest industry in the La Verendrye Park region. The agreement covered an area of 10,000 square kilometres and would have been completed within 16 months, Diabo said. It is designed to establish harmonizing measures, such as buffer zones around areas like lakes and rivers, wildlife wintering and calving zones, and to safeguard other sensitive zones used for traditional activities.

These zones are verified on the ground by community representatives with an independent forester. The logging company then adapts its logging plans based on the joint report.

The prototype area of Gull Lake would be applied to other zones. But all logging operations except one (which has completed a harmonization plan) in the region are now threatened by the abrupt cessation of the trilateral agreement.

“The Quebec government is onside,” said Diabo. “It’s the feds that are the problem here. The trilateral agreement is outside the comprehensive claims policy, which is where the government is trying to push other First Nations in Quebec. This is not a Cadillac process; it is – as Jean Chrétien likes to say – a Chevy.”

The Algonquins say they have already received support for their position from Quebec forestry giant Domtar. The head of Domtar’s Val d’Or operations, Michel Sigouin, wrote a letter to the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources to help avert a shutdown. “We are counting on you to take the necessary measures to resolve this and prevent a situation that could affect the supply to the mills,” wrote Sigouin.

In a statement, ABL Chief Harry Wawatie said he welcomes Domtar’s letter. “We have said from the beginning that our community is not against logging as long as it doesn’t become a threat to our traditional way of life. We will respect cutting in areas that have undergone the measures to harmonize.”

The Barriere Lake region was the scene of logging confrontations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wawatie says that if the federal government I does return to the table, the Integrated Management plan for the region can still be completed.