There is good news and bad news for the rabbits of the Lebel-sur-Quévillon area.
The good news is that the rabbit population is multiplying.
The bad news is that it’s multiplying because no one wants to eat them. Massive pollution from the forestry operations that are the backbone of Quévillon’s economy has contaminated the local population of rabbits and other animals. Trappers report finding white spots on their lungs.
And the problems may now get worse very fast.
Logging and mining companies are in the middle of a major expansion that has turned Quévillon from a near ghost town into the Klondike of Northern Quebec.
In the next 24 months, these companies will invest $400 million in spiffing up their facilities in town. One company, Domtar, is putting in $250 million of that amount.
In four years, the town’s jobless rate has fallen from 16 to 0 per cent. Quévillon’s is brimming with newly arrived residents.
“It’s going very, very well,” Gérald Lemoine, mayor of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, told The Nation. “It’s like a gift from the stars.”
How will this expansion affect the environment? Will it mean more pressure on Cree traplines?
Henri Jacob, a long-time ecologist in Val d’Or, is worried. “It’s unsustainable that they can cut forests at that rate,” he said.
Jacib said forestry companies want to expand operations because wood prices are high. And with the new investments, they will be looking deeper and deeper in the Cree Territory to sustain their operations, he warned.
“If they invest that amount of money, they’re going to need new trees from somewhere. And I don’t see much left around Quévillon.”
Jimmy Moore, economic development agent in Waswanipi, said forestry should be urgently discussed at the community’s next general assembly in January. One of his biggest concerns is Domtar’s proposed N-822 logging road that will open up virgin forests northwest of Waswanipi.
“Now it’s open season for everything and we can’t even say anything about the projects on Category II land,” he said.
Domtar spokeswoman Lise Paradis insisted that the company’s rate of tree- ’ cutting is not about to increase. She said the new road will sustain existing operations in Matagami and the $250 million spent in Quévillon will make facilities there more environment-friendly and modern.
“With the same trees, we’ll be able to make more good lumber,” she said.
Paradis said Domtar is willing to sit down with Crees to hear their concerns. “Surely there are ways of arriving at a compromise.”
But Moore is unconvinced. As an environmental administrator in Waswanipi the 1980s, he remembers telling loggers where moose yards were located, expecting they would be left uncut. Instead, the trees were cut anyway and the loggers even went to the moose yards to hunt.
“When you tell them something, they don’t listen. They already made up their minds about what they’re going to do.”