Quebec has been hemorrhaging biologists, wildlife technicians, game wardens and now endangered species recovery teams, all in the name of austerity. But what kind of an impact will this have on a region that is looking to go full steam ahead with development like the Plan Nord, particularly on its wildlife?
In recent weeks, numerous reports have surfaced warning that cadmium has been detected in the organs of 24 moose in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region and that they should not be consumed. Moose below the 50th parallel have been severely affected by ticks, weakening some to the point of death. This prompts the question, just who was looking out for the moose and could this have any impact on Crees?
In late August, Laurent Lessard, minister of the newly formed forestry, wildlife and parks department (ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, or MFFP), announced that 54 positions would be eliminated, including 16 game wardens and the biologists, scientists, researchers and wilderness technicians who supported them.
Fast forward to October 7, when the MFFP announced that all of the endangered species recovery teams will have their budgets frozen until April 1, 2015, leaving virtually no one to witness the demise of these species (including woodland caribou), much less try to save them.
According to Patrick Nadeau, Quebec Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, a non-profit group that advocates for the protection of environment and wildlife, these recent austerity cuts are without reason and reveal the true nature of the Quebec Liberal Party.
“We first expressed some serious concerns shortly after the most recent provincial elections because there was a shuffling of ministries and Premier Couillard actually invented a new ministry for forests, wildlife and parks. Previously wildlife and parks was under the department of the environment and now they have been moved to the very economically oriented MFFP,” explained Nadeau.
“What we said at that time was that you are putting wildlife and parks in with a ministry that has a focus on logging and industrial economics and for us that is not a good fit.”
Since then, Nadeau said, his worst fears about this government have come to fruition as these layoffs mean that all of those on the ground who were studying the impact of development on wildlife will no longer be able to mobilize. While the 14 recovery teams devoted to working recovering endangered species will be sitting idle, the decline of the species they had been trying to protect will continue.
Nadeau said the estimated savings of $10,000 per recovery team is minimal in terms of overall governmental spending.
“When we look at the official reasons behind these cuts, which is saving money, and then you look at the actual dollar figures, the money is so negligible that one could ask the question as to what is the real motivation behind these cuts and I don’t think it is money. It is all very worrying stuff,” said Nadeau.
According to Greenpeace Quebec director Nicolas Mainville, the Couillard government is making drastic cuts to any department that could hinder large industrial development, all in the name of austerity.
“Wildlife has always been the enfant pauvre within our governmental body and fauna management has always been weak, underfunded and understaffed. Now seeing these cuts within the Ministry’s wildlife management shows that this is clearly an ideological decision,” said Mainville.
“These sectors are not hindering the government’s budget, they instead hinder industry’s agenda. Seeing those cuts, the new Quebec government is sending a clear message – that the new agenda is being set by industry rather than for the common good.”
According to Mainville, these teams were in charge of emergency work in the most sensitive of areas. As the biodiversity crisis worsens in the province so does the list of 500 species that are endangered, vulnerable or on the decline. In his opinion, these endangered species should be a top priority for a department that handles wildlife management.
He said the cuts were indicative of Quebec’s federal counterparts and called putting the needs of industry before wildlife “Harperism”.
“They are only six months into their mandate and already they have destroyed decades of work,” declared Mainville. “For example, the cuts in science, biologists losing their jobs, entire project research teams shut down – these are some of drastic cuts the federal government have made that were expected, but it is surprising to see this happen at a provincial level.”
When viewed in terms of the Liberals’ Plan Nord 2.0, Mainville said the plan’s goal is to increase industrial presence in the north, but there remains much to learn about the north in terms of traditional science. This is the area where the monitoring is most needed to examine the changes being caused by rapid climate change.
“The last thing that we need to be doing is cut down on science. Not only is it a mistake but it is also a very dangerous move for the long term when it comes to the application and credibility of the Plan Nord,” stated Mainville.
In the past Quebec has benefited from a good international reputation on its environmental protection. But Mainville fears by ridding the province of its scientific backbone, Quebec may be doing away with such credibility like the rest of Canada under the Conservatives.
“Not only is there a danger for our wildlife here in Quebec, we really need to be questioning all of this at an international level and looking at whether or not Quebec has gone rogue in terms of environmental protection,” said Mainville.
“The moose is a good example here because of its connection with the Cree way of life. A few things have come up with it, so what we should be doing is investigating those issues.”
According to Paul Legault, President of the Syndicat des agents de protection de la faune du Québec, the union for the province’s game wardens, not only will 16 positions for game wardens be cut throughout Quebec, but many game-warden offices in Eeyou Istchee will be left unmanned.
On December 1, eight specially trained game wardens will be unemployed and several others will see their workload increase, leaving a skeleton staff to cover their territory.
The Lebel-sur-Quévillon office will have two agents to cover Waswanipi, Waskaganish and Matagami. In Radisson, Kuujjuarapik, Chisasibi and Kuujjuaq there will be one person in each office. Chibougamau will be given four game wardens, who will cover Oujé-Bougoumou, Nemaska, Eastmain and Mistissini.
Legault said that in 2000 the governments had banded together to train 30 Cree and Inuit for these positions. But because most of them were only employed for about six months per year, only five remain.
“If you want to keep someone in this kind of a position you need to give them full-time employment and so they left,” said Legault. “Their offices exist but there is nobody to man them. This is dangerous especially for the woodland caribou, which is an endangered species with dwindling herds.”
In light of the Plan Nord, Legault said there will be thousands of new workers moving into the region to take advantage of the employment boom.
“I wrote to the ministry saying more agents will be needed. With 5000 new workers in the north, it is going to be like the 1970s all over again. When the workers are off, they will be hunting and fishing, but nobody is going to be monitoring them,” said Legault.
As for the moose, the Cree Board of Health and Services of James Bay has reaffirmed their position that the animal is safe to consume, kidneys and all, despite Abitibi-Témiscamingue’s warning not to eat the organs.
According to Paul Linton, Assistant Director of Public Health for Chishaayiyuu for the CBHSSJB, there is no need for panic over the consumption of traditional food as cadmium has only been detected in smokers and not in non-smokers who ate moose. Over the last decade the department has kept records on this and it shows that those who ate traditional foods did not in fact test for high levels of cadmium, which is a carcinogen.
“The study that pushed the panic button was done with 24 moose within a radius of 120 km from Rouyn-Noranda and that is a small radius. It wasn’t a government study but one done by the foundries (in the area). They had done one 10 or 12 years ago that said it was high then but it only dealt with a specific area around Rouyn,” said Linton.
In his opinion, there shouldn’t be any concern over moose hunted within Cree territory even though there is development happening. He said the noise generated by these development sites is enough to keep the moose far away.
As for the gaps that will be left wide open by the lack of game wardens, Linton said that if anyone encounters an animal that they fear might be ill or infected with rabies, the best thing to do is contact the local Cree Trappers Association.
“They will know who to contact to have the meat tested, but there is still a lot of work to be done to set up the proper procedures,” said Linton.
“There was a time when we took caribou that we had questions about to the game wardens in Chibougamau and all we were told was that if we didn’t think it was safe, not to eat it. They didn’t offer to get it tested; they just said not to eat it. They told us to just throw it out. And this was before the cutbacks.”