With increasing pressure to protect forest lands, Quebec’s relationship with forestry is under scrutiny
The Péribonka River flows south from the Otis Mountains to Lake Saint-Jean, passing through a valley in Quebec that is home to ancient yellow birches, woodland reindeer, and condors.
Over the years, the valley has been heavily deforested. Until the mid-1990s, the river was blocked by wood, making it impossible to canoe or kayak.
But in the past ten years, local activists and politicians have been trying to get the Québec government to protect the 80-kilometer-long forest along the river, but to no avail.
They proposed ecotourism and biodiversity plans, and emphasized the threat of logging to the caribou, which is an endangered species in Quebec. Nothing can shake government officials.
In December, the government announced that it would protect 34 new districts in the province in response to United Nations treaties Quebec is required to ban development of 17% of its territory by the end of 2020.
However, the advocates of the Perry Bunka Valley Project were disappointed again
Instead, last month, the Ministry of Forestry approved the two companies to log within the 80 kilometers that activists have been hoping to protect.
By the end of August, these companies will begin shipping enough wood to supply more than a dozen wood mills.
“Our elected officials just hand our forests to forestry,” said Ève Tremblay, who created the citizen-led conservation organization Perry Bunka River Conservation Committee.
The Péribonka Valley is one of dozens of areas where environmental groups asked the Quebec government to include it in the 17% but was ultimately rejected.
It appeared later, in the report according to, Senior officials of the Ministry of Forestry are opposed to protecting forests in areas that the forestry department dreams of.
These disclosures have led to increasing distrust of the Ministry’s willingness to protect the province’s forests.
In the eyes of experts, environmental activists and indigenous communities, the ministry seems to be more interested in protecting industrial profits than the forest itself.
Uncomfortable too close?
The Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks has been monitoring the output of the forest industry since 2013, after a public investigation found that the company had cut too many trees.
This gives the officials of the ministries and commissions the responsibility for forestry protection and economic viability. The initial hope was that the ministry would act as a counterbalance to industry.
But in recent years, the ministry has become notorious for ignoring environmental and community issues when they conflict with the commercial interests of forestry companies.
Luc Bouthillier, a professor in the Department of Forestry at Laval University in Quebec City, said: “Are we protecting the forest adequately? Well, no, because we are too receptive to the needs of industry.”
Even within the ministry, there are concerns that it has failed to exercise sufficient independence.
“We serve this industry, and it says’do that, give me that, change that,” a ministry official said Tell investigation, Radio Canada’s survey program, this winter.
The plan shows that industry representatives have complained to the Ministry of Environment for a list of 83 proposed protected areas compiled by the Ministry of Environment after consulting the public.
All of this is in southern Quebec, where logging has caused a shortage of ancient forests and the destruction of wildlife habitat.
According to a report from the Quebec government, when the Quebec government compiled a list of 17% of the regions, senior officials of the Ministry of Forestry sent emails to colleagues in the environment department to object to many of the entries on the list. according to.
When Quebec finally announced which areas would fall below 17%, several observers pointed out that most of the areas are in northern Quebec, where commercial logging is not allowed under any circumstances.
The list of 83 proposed locations, including the Perry Bunka River, was completely excluded.
“Getting people to the top is an uphill battle [of the Forest Ministry] There is nothing but short-term profits,” said Daniel Kenneshaw, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal who specializes in forestry management.
“It is: clear the forest and tighten the next generation.”
Environmental groups that have dealt with the ministry said the process is often frustrating and their opinions are not welcome.
Pier-Olivier Boudreault, head of conservation at the Quebec branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association, said: “The ministry is not interested in listening to voices outside the industry.”
“For this reason, it is very difficult to work with them. It does require a cultural change.”
The Innu community of Pessamit proposed to transfer but not reduce the area where commercial logging can be carried out to better protect the local reindeer population.
The proposal and similar proposals made by other Innu communities on the north coast of Quebec were also rejected.
Charles-Édouard Verreault of the Mashteuiatsh Band Committee told Radio Canada: “We have spent several years working with the government to protect reindeer and establish protected areas. Our proposal has no reservations.”
Frustrated citizens don’t want to back down
The current minister, Pierre Dufour, is known for being impatient with critics, and the public reputation of the ministry has not been helped.
In May, he ridiculed that the opponents of logging projects along the Perry Bunka River were a group of NIMBY.
The minister is currently on leave and cannot be interviewed. Nevertheless, his office provided detailed answers to a series of questions submitted by CBC News.
Dufour’s office said: “The ministry carefully solicits the opinions of the public during every forestry logging operation,” adding that it is trying to give more control over forestry management to the community.
Dufour’s office also defended its decision to approve logging in parts of the Péribonka River, claiming that the area was infested by spruce budworms.
“The reduction plan is to slow the development of insects to other trees and departments,” a spokesperson told CBC News.
But local activists trying to protect the valley said that the government has exaggerated the dangers of budworms to the forest. There are a large number of yellow birch growing in the forest, and the budworms do not eat.
Tremblay and a dozen members of her team still hope to stop the layoffs planned to begin later this month.
The organization plans to hold a protest outside the office of the Forest Department in Jonquel, Quebec next week. If this doesn’t work, Tremblay says that she is going to lock herself to a tree in the Péribonka forest.
“What does the government need to open its ears?” she asked.