A Cree delegation was in Washington last week to tell U.S. trade officials and congressional staff all about Quebec’s forestry practices from the Cree point of view.

“Quebec is obviously painting a rosy picture of what’s going on. We went down to give another side of the story,” said Geoff Quaile, of the Grand Council of the Crees.

The Cree visit came in the midst of two big developments south of the border that are causing serious concern in Quebec’s forestry industry.

Maine is going ahead with a referendum this fall on a ballot to restrict clear-cutting in the state. This would directly impact Quebec because Maine provides a growing portion of the wood processed in Quebec mills.

Also, the U.S. Justice Department has announced a criminal investigation of “anticompetitive” practices in Canada’s newsprint industry. Over one-quarter of America’s newsprint comes from Quebec trees.

In the middle of all this, the Cree delegation, which included Sam Etapp and Romeo Saganash, visited some of Washington’s power-brokers to explain Cree concerns.

“We believe Quebec’s forestry practices are not sustainable, and we gave lots of reasons why. We told them that’s the reason wood is cheap for Americans. The price is being paid by Crees and the environment,” said Quaile.

The Cree delegates also argued that Crees should have a presence in upcoming negotiations to renew the 1996 U.S.-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement.

The negotiations are expected to be ugly. U.S. industry is accusing the Canadian government of unfairly subsidizing forestry companies here with ultra-low stumpage fees – which are kind of a tax that companies pay to cut down trees.

The low fees mean Canadian companies can sell wood cheap in the U.S. The Americans are saying they can’t compete.

The worst culprit, say the Americans, is Quebec, where stumpage fees are among the lowest in the world.

The Cree delegation told U.S. officials Crees are also paying a price for the low stumpage fees. Doors were opened for their visit in Washington by the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, a powerful U.S. lobby group that is leading the charge against Canada’s low stumpage fees.

The U.S. Justice Department investigation into Canadian newsprint makers seems to be linked to the coming talks on softwood lumber, according to Luc Bouthillier, a forestry professor at Laval University.

In Quebec, the newsprint is made by the same companies that own the sawmills that are upsetting the Americans with their cheap wood.

Bouthillier said the U.S. investigation might also be politically inspired. It’s an election year, and the U.S. government might be trying to show American industry groups it takes their concerns seriously.

While in Washington, the Cree delegates met aides to Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native Senator from Colorado, and Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. They also met Jon Huenemann and Mary Ryckman, two senior U.S. trade officials.