The Grand Council of the Crees

Crees and Trees: An Introduction


Posted: 0000-00-00

Canada's international image in the forest products sector has been shaped by British Columbia and its coastal temperate rainforests. Images of lush towering trees contrasted with massive clear-cut mountain sides have been circulated around the world. These images have attracted widespread attention to the plight of the forests in British Columbia. Many people do not realize that similar environmental damage is occurring in other parts of Canada. While there has been pressure for international boycotts on forest products from British Columbia, awareness of the damage being inflicted on the boreal forests in Northern Québec remains minimal.

As the regional governing body representing the nine Cree nations in Québec, the Grand Council of the Crees wishes to raise awareness of the unsustainable practices and management policies employed by the provincial government and forest industry in Québec. In addition we wish to draw attention to the impact that these practices have on the Cree people's ancient tradition of living from the plants and animals of our land -- Eeyou Astchee.

The Crees have lived in a sustainable manner without harming the environment for thousands of years. To this day many Crees rely on what the land has to give for their survival. Despite the pressures of the modern world, we remain one of the few functioning hunting and gathering cultures. Preserving the integrity of the boreal forest environment is imperative not only for the economic needs of our people, but also for the survival of our culture. It is not just a question of too many trees being cut by the forest industry but rather an issue of cultural survival and fundamental human rights. This is why the destructive practices of the forest products industry and the policies of Québec's government must change.

The following provides an overview of the issue. The pictures included here were taken during field surveys of Eeyou Astchee in the summer of 1995. They are provided to highlight many of the negative impacts that logging activities are having on our forests.

The Forests of Québec and its Industry

At 839,000 km2, Québec has the largest provincial area of forested land in Canada -- an area larger than the state of Texas. This represents 22.5% of Canada's total forested land and about 2% of the world's forested lands. At this scale, Québec's forest products industry is the second largest in Canada with $6.5 billion (1994) in exports -- 86% of these exports being shipped to the U.S. and 8% to the European Union.

Logging in Eeyou Astchee

In 1974 the total amount of land allocated to forest companies in our territory, Eeyou Astchee, was 24,000 km2. By 1994 this figure had doubled to 52,000 km2. This represents an area larger than Belgium, Denmark or Holland. Ninety-five percent of this land has been leased under renewable 25-year contracts with 7 non-native forest companies. The wood from this area supplies 28 wood transformation mills.

In the rest of Québec, the average area leased to one forestry company by the government is 1,600 km2. However, in Eeyou Astchee, the average company forest land lease is 3,471 km2. One company, Barrette Chapais, has a single lease contract for an area over 17,000 km2--4,000 km2 larger than the state of Connecticut. This one lease is more than ten times the provincial average and represents 33% of the commercial forest in Eeyou Astchee.

Extent of Logging

Since the mid 1970s cutting has increased dramatically. The following graph reveals the upward growth in logging activity in Eeyou Astchee, starting in 1975-76, with 125 km2 being cut, and tripling to a peak of 400 km2 by 1988-89. Declines in activity marked on the graph represent periods of economic recession. As a result of recent price increases in paper and wood, it is estimated that the current amount of land cleared annually is over 400 km2. In total since 1975, more than 5000 km2--an area equivalent to the state of Delaware--of forest has been clear-cut in Eeyou Astchee. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of land flooded by the La Grande Hydro Electric Reservoir.

Policies of Expansion

Prior to 1975, cutting on our lands was small in scale and limited to sites along major roadways. Québec's forest industry operated in an area mainly to the south of Eeyou Astchee. By the late 1970s, years of over harvesting and mismanagement left the southern forests in poor condition. Government foresters warned that these forests would not be able to support the mills in this region.

In response to these impending supply shortages, the government of Québec set policies to facilitate expansion into our territories. Low stumpage fees for northern timber stocks, generous subsidies for road construction, the granting of enormous leases, and allowing mills to expand their production capacity all served to encourage companies to focus their operations on Eeyou Astchee. In a sense, Québec's policies funded the industry's northward expansion.

An indication of the success of these policies can be found in the amount of money that was invested in this area. In 1983 investment in forestry operations in Eeyou Astchee represented about 13.1% of the industry's total investment for the province. By 1988 this figure had increased to 57.7% of the industry's total investment. This increase allowed for the construction of new mega-mills with the technological capacity to use the small diameter trees found in the northern fringes (52° N) of the commercial boreal forest.

The increase in investment also put an end to the smaller companies who had logged more or less sustainably in the territory for decades. With the influx of new capital, these locally-based operations were either closed down or consolidated into large capacity mills which replaced older small scale ones. An example of one such mill is the Domtar joint pulp and paper/sawmill located at Quévillion. With a capacity of 262,000 metric tonnes of newsprint and 219,000 board metres per year, this mill is sustained almost exclusively by wood from Eeyou Astchee.

Logging Practices

While the government of Québec has little record of logging operations in Eeyou Astchee prior to 1980, field surveys reveal that clear-cutting and strip- cutting were the primary methods used. In many areas where strip-cutting was used the land remains deforested. With the growth in activity in Eeyou Astchee intensive clear-cutting has become the principle means of deforestation. This cutting occurs in massive blocks that often span hundreds of hectares, with only sparsely treed rows (perhaps ten to twenty trees deep) separating blocks.

Field surveys of these large-scale clear-cuts demonstrate patchwork forest regeneration efforts. Some areas have been manually replanted and show signs of healthy regrowth. Many others are struggling either because the wrong species of tree was planted (i.e., planting a dry species in a wet area), or the soil cover has been eroded due to the improper use of heavy machinery and exposure to natural elements.

Surveys of Eeyou Astchee also reveal that areas left to regenerate naturally are faring the poorest. Natural regeneration is most effective when the advance growth found under the forest canopy at the time of cutting is left undisturbed. In Eeyou Astchee the majority of clear-cut areas have been scarred so badly by heavy machinery that little of the natural understory remains.

This is disturbing because Québec has adopted a policy that favours natural regeneration over
manual replanting. Although this will save the Québec government money in the short-run, its
long-term impacts may be devastating for habitat regeneration. Studies done in similar areas in
Ontario demonstrate that while trees will naturally repopulate clear-cut areas, the composition of the new forest is dominated by northern deciduous species. If this occurs in northern Québec, the fundamental ecology of the existing black spruce forest environment will be replaced for years to come and will result in disruption of the populations of large animals such as moose and woodland caribou, and of fur-bearers such as marten and lynx.

Management Policies Ignore Cree Land Use

The principle reason existing forestry practices have such a negative impact on the Crees is that the Québec system of forest management fails to recognize Cree hunting territories. The foundation of the treaty among Québec, Canada and the Crees is the acceptance and recognition of the Cree right to hunt, fish and trap in their traditional lands. According to the Treaty all future development in Eeyou Astchee was to occur in a manner that protected the Cree ability to continue to live from the land. The Treaty promises protection for the family hunting territory system of land use. Québec forest policies are a direct attack on this way of life, thereby reducing the Treaty to a lie.

Since this Treaty, the James Bay Northern Québec Agreement, was signed in 1975, Québec has adopted a system of land administration which uses large land management units for determining
the amount of wood that individual companies can cut. One of these management units can often
encompass more than three Cree hunting territories. This system of land administration enables logging companies to plan logging operations without any regard to Cree use of the land. In many cases this has allowed logging companies to deplete up to 80% of a hunting territory in as little as twenty years, while still falling within provincially set cutting levels for that particular management unit.

Despite provisions in the Treaty which were designed to protect Cree hunting territories,
Québec land administration maps do not show these territories. Québec's use of an alternative
system of land administration demonstrates an unwillingness to recognize Cree hunting
territories or our right to continue to subsist on these lands.

Profit Maximizing Policies

Québec's Forest Act, which forms the basis of its management policies and regulations, is even
worse than those of Canada's other two primary forest products producers with respect to
environmental protection. Both Ontario and British Columbia are in the process of implementing completely revised forestry legislation which have more progressive environmental protection provisions than those of Québec.

Despite the movement exhibited by other provinces, Québec has done little to change its
policies, which are better suited for profit maximizing than environmental protection. For example:

The scale of fines for ecological infractions of Québec's forestry regulations (e.g., illegal or improper road construction) represent little more than operational fees, and are far below standards in other parts of Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Unlike most other provinces where recognition of Native cultural traditions and forest usage is beginning to emerge, there is no formal process for consultation with Aboriginal people in Québec. Québec has opted to avoid its responsibility to Native people by encouraging forest companies to negotiate nonbinding ad hoc arrangements on a case by case basis. These arrangements often amount to compensatory gifts of boats or snowmobiles and bear no resemblance to informed consultation or consent. By deferring its Treaty obligations, Québec is using a strategy designed to undermine the integrity of the aboriginal communities and their capacity to defend their way of life.

In previous versions of Québec's forestry regulations forest companies were required to preserve special habitat areas for moose and beaver. Since companies never abided by these regulations, and since the province never attempted to enforce them, these provisions have been removed from the latest version (1996) of forestry regulations.

In order to displace Crees from their own territory, the new regulations stipulate that Crees can only have a single cabin for every 100 km2. In Cree culture hunting territories are often shared among several families. Being restricted to a single cabin over such a large area is not possible. Hunters, especially the elderly, often require several cabins in order to work an entire territory. These cabins also provide emergency shelter during times of harsh weather.

Québec's Forest Act stipulates that a regional land use management plan must be developed and approved prior to leasing land to forest companies. In Eeyou Astchee no land use management plan has ever been approved despite 95% of the commercial forest land being leased out to companies.

The province of Québec has the lowest percentage of protected park land in Canada. There are no parks in Eeyou Astchee that are protected from resource development.

New Names, Old Policies

The government of Québec has found ways of dealing with the pressure placed on governments and industry to adopt more ecologically sound forest practices. In 1987, Québec passed the Forest Act which made the sustainable yield of timber stock for the forest industry its primary management goal.

Since then the phrase 'sustainable yield' has been replaced with 'sustainable basis' in Québec's current promotional literature. This language was adopted to give the impression that Quebec's forests are managed using ecologically sustainable methods. However, sustainable forest development 'sustaining the forest environment for the benefit of all (animals and people) who rely on it' and sustainable timber supply for the forest industry are very different things.

Similarly, the term "clear-cutting" has been dropped from the provincial government's lexicon. "Clear-cutting" has been replaced with the phrase "cutting with regeneration and soil protection". Québec has justified this change in terminology by citing a slight reduction in the allowable size of a clear-cut. In reality, these reduced clear-cuts are made adjacent to one another with thin tree buffers so that over time these clear-cuts add up to intensive deforestation.

In both examples Québec has employed disinformationto obscure the reality of what is happening in the forest.

Government of Québec a Prime Shareholder in Forestry Industry

The government of Québec owns 45% of Domtar Inc.'s shares. With over 10,000 km2 of forest leases, Domtar is on the most active companies in Eeyou Astchee. In the first two quarters of the 1995 fiscal year Domtar's sales reached $717 million and earned a profit of $166 million. These six month profits surpassed the previous annual record of $161 million set in 1987.

We find Québec's dual role as shareholder in industry and protector of the forest very disturbing.

Moose Crisis

In 1985 the moose population most affected by logging and road construction was estimated to be about 1200. Today there are fewer than 400 of these moose left. This collapse occurred in one of the most intensely logged areas of Eeyou Astchee. There are hundreds of kilometres of roads in this area. The access provided to sport hunters has long surpassed the province's ability to control poaching, trespassing, theft and vandalism. The Crees are now in court to try to protect the moose and themselves from unregulated sport hunting.

The moose crisis illustrates the need for an integrated land-use management plan for the entire region. Québec's own forestry legislation requires that such a plan be in place prior to forest land being leased to companies. While this law applies to the whole of the province, there is no such land-use plan for Eeyou Astchee. By leasing to companies in Eeyou Astchee the government has broken its own laws.