First, a fire devastated trapline M-37. Then, alleges the Grand Council of the Crees, the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Parks, and two forestry companies finished the job.
The results are that for three or more generations the Gunner family of Mistissini will not have the use of their trapline. Several other Cree hunting territories were also affected by the fire and salvage operations of forestry companies. These hunting territories were affected by a forest fire in 2000.
The Paix des Braves Agreement says that when more than 40 per cent of a trapline is affected by logging or fire, then there will be no more logging permitted. In this case, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Parks asked the Crees to a make an exception. The Ministry said insect infestation would make the wood unfit for the market so they should try to salvage it. The Cree forestry companies would be part of the team salvaging the wood and make a handsome profit while giving much-needed employment to Mistissini workers. The Mistissini Band and the tallymen in the affected areas would be a part of determining the salvage operation plan. It seemed like a win-win situation.
A Grand Council/CRA report on Fire #325’s salvage operation paints a different picture; one where communications went awry and wood was illegally harvested and overcut. The report says documents promised to the Grand Council and Mistissini Band were slow in coming.
The Ministry “never provided the Crees with maps documenting how and where the salvage operation was to be conducted,” says the report.
The report alleges the Ministry failed to live up to the deal, resulting in “approximately 230,000 cubic metres of illegally harvested timber, with an estimated market value of $ 16-17 million.”
The report says this means approximately $2.6 million or more in stumpage fees were never collected and the generous subsidies for clearing out the wood added to the profits made by Abitibi Consolidated and Chantier Chibougamau.
Fines levied under Quebec’s Forest Act, if this turns out to be true and they are prosecuted and convicted, could be anywhere from $11 to $142 million. Section 174 of the Quebec Forest Act says cutting of wood outside of the prescribed area is punishable by a fine of $4,000 to $50,000 for each hectare cut. Section 95.32(2) of the same Act, designed for the James Bay area, gives fines of $5 to $450 per tree.
The report says the two forestry companies were supposed to leave 20 per cent residual timber stands as seed stock so the area would regenerate its forests. According to Arbex Forest Resource Consultants, a company hired by the Grand Council, Chantier de Chibougamau only left 14 per cent standing residual lumber while Abitibi Consolidated left 8 per cent.
Chantier de Chibouamau General Manager Michel Filon denied any wrongdoing by his company. “We did it the way we were told to do it. We followed the Ministry’s rules. We weren’t there to cut green wood,” he told the Nation.
Filon also stressed that the Mistissini Band and tallymen were part of the planning process. “We worked with Mistissini on where to put roads. We didn’t do anything that wasn’t planned or scheduled,” he said. Filon
added it was up to the Ministry and not the Crees to sue the company if there was any wrongdoing.
Abitibi Consolidated did not return phone calls by press time.
The Ministry sent the Grand Council a summary of their own report acknowledging that green areas may have been cut but saying perhaps a ground fire affected the roots or just the bark making them appear as greenwood. Other areas that were unclassified by the Ministry were deemed unproductive, meaning they were bogs. “If they were unproductive,” asked Bill Namagoose, Executive Director for the Grand Council, “why were they logged?”
Mistissini Chief John Longchap said not all of the specific requests made to the forestry companies were honoured. “We signed the Paix des braves, a new relationship agreement with Quebec,” said Longchap. “The Ministry’s attitude was the total opposite of the spirit and intent of the Agreement. They ignored our good faith.”
Longchap said the Ministry hasn’t addressed Cree concerns and issues. “We have had continuous problems with forestry companies and the Ministry,” he said.
The Mistissini Band’s forestry company, Eenatuk, also lost out, never seeing any part of the deals come their way. The Ministry did offer them an area they said contained approximately 70,000 cubic metres, but when Mistissini investigated it they estimated there was only 25,000 cubic metres, making the allocation unprofitable. A further attempt to do a coventure with Barette Chapais failed, leaving the Cree company out in the cold. Eenatuk estimate their losses associated with the salvage operations to be $186,000.
The Grand Council wants the burn area to be added to a plan for a park near the Otish Mountain, to protect it forever. If this happens it could be the second largest park in Canada.
What the Crees say the deal was
1. Only burned timber was to be salvaged.
2. Logging would occur in blocks no larger than 400 hectares.
3. In each cut block, 20 per cent of the burned timber stands would be left as residual seed stock to speed regeneration.
4. The standard 20 metre watercourse protective measures of the Forest Act would be applied.
5. Permanent access roads would not be allowed in the area of the burn and all salvage was to be done through winter roads.
6. Operations would occur only during the winter months of 2002-2003.
7. All infrastructure related to the operations (e.g., camps, machinery, etc.) would be removed upon completion.
8. All wood salvaged from the operation would be included as part of the forestry companies normal AAC as specified by the Forestry Act.
What the Crees say will rebuild the trust
1. Apply the full extent of the law to those forestry companies that allegedly broke it, with fines substantial enough to reflect the seriousness of the offence.
2. Restore the affected traplines through a regenerative silviculture program.
3. Protect, at a minimum, the portion of the fire-ravaged lands as part of the Otish Mountains-Albanel-Temiscamie Park.
4. Recover the costs that the Crees have incurred in working on this issue.