A forest in danger, the livelihood of thousands on the brink of extinction?

Not if the people working to create Waswanipi Cree Model Forest (WCMF) have their way.

Since 1997 WCMF has been working to maintain and enhance the natural quality of Eeyou Istchee. Through developing new methods of forest management while working with the Cree people and their traditional knowledge and expertise, and offering opportunities for Aboriginal communities to participate in sustainable forest management decision making.

So what have the gang at WCMF been up too? Looks like they have their plates full down in Waswanipi. There is no lack of potential improvement in forestry practices, especially regarding Native lands. And that is precisely what the WCMF team are out to prove.

One such task involves the NDOHO Istchee (hunting ground) Integration, or in the words of WCMF President Sam Gull, “How to manage a trap line in today’s society.”

The project aims to involve the tallyman and his extensive knowledge and concerns about his land directly into the forestry process. A pilot project was established and is on going since last year, to map out three different Cree families family trees and land-usage history.

Information is being collected regarding hunting trends from 100 years ago, 50 years ago and the present, along with a prediction for future land usage. The knowledge collected will be the backbone of the management tool being prepared by the WCMF.

The direct involvement on both sides of the spectrum is the only way to balance tradition with industry. Harvesting and production is a part of today’s cycle of life, and only by respecting each other’s needs and demands will the land be managed to each group’s satisfaction.

The Waswanipi Cree Model Forest aims to help the moose population by increasing the area of forest harvesting buffer zones. The allocated buffer zone area right now is 20 metres, which is hardly sufficient to protect anything. Twenty metres is equivalent to the width of a hockey rink and can support nine or ten trees across.

Something needs to be done when you can see right through a buffer zone, leaving the edge vulnerable to windfall and a variety of disturbances. The WCMF is working on a research project to prove that the size of buffers need to be severely increased, the protection of watersheds, lakes, rivers, streams, sensitive areas and all the future moose yards depend on it.

The project began after a public inquiry found from many interviews, community discussions and overall word in the bush that the moose of Eeyou Ischee were declining in health. Trappers were discovering all kinds of ill-fated evidence, for example some of the moose on the trap lines were found to have white spots on their lungs.

Big business and international markets are quicker to listen to scientific data than to thousands of years of instinct and reason; and so one year ago WCMF embarked on a project to scientifically prove that the moose population of Northern Quebec is threatened. That moose yards, breeding grounds, feeding swamps, grazing hills and watering holes need protection.

With the help of modern technology and the ambitions of head researcher Hugo Jacqmain, the Nordic Moose Project is well on its way. The tagging of 10 moose with the help of Global Positioning Satellite, or collars (or GPS), was accomplished last winter. Jacqmain and his team has set out to compile as much information they can gather about the life cycles of the northern moose, to show how the moose use the environment in severely disturbed habitat.

The collars were placed on 10 female moose, because they are more selective than males are about their surroundings. The collars are meant to stay on for three years. Each year Jacqmain and his team will locate each moose via a broadcast traceable VHF signal to change the GPS batteries and download a year’s worth of information.

Unfortunately, 2 of the 10 moose were shot earlier this year, one by accident by a Cree trapper and the other by a non-native hunter. Both collars were returned and have been fastened to two other big mamas. An extensive effort has been made by the CMF to publicize the moose project, and with everyone’s help the tagged moose will continue to roam the forests.

Sam Gull recently took a trip to Stockholm, Sweden, on a Model Forest exchange, where the Swedes are planning a Model Forest initiative. Sam was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Sami, Sweden’s northern indigenous people, are organizing a reindeer study. Plans have been made to remain in contact throughout the projects.