Nemaska, July 19, 2010--The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) publicly endorses the recommendation by the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (JBACE) to suspend several ongoing environmental assessments of proposed forestry roads in habitat of "threatened" woodland caribou on Cree lands.
In a letter (June 21, 2010) from the JBACE to the Provincial Environmental Administrator and the Federal Administrator and President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the committee calls for the application of the precautionary principle due to a lack of proper critical habitat mapping for woodland caribou. Currently, several forestry companies have proposed thousands of kilometres of new forestry roads in previously undisturbed forests that are known to hold woodland caribou. Woodland caribou have been classified as threatened and vulnerable under federal and provincial law since 2003 and 2005 respectively and are very sensitive to habitat destruction caused by forestry practices. According to the requirements of the Federal Species at Risk Act, development projects that affect these species must conform to prescribed recovery plans as stated in the JBACE's letter:
"... identifying critical habitat is considered by scientists to be a crucial element of the recovery plan. Yet it appears that the proponents of the forestry road projects still do not have these essential maps, and consequently, cannot determine the exact impacts of their projects on woodland caribou. "
The JBACE was established as the preferential and official body that administers the implementation of the environment provisions (Section 22) of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. This includes providing advice to the Provincial and Federal Environmental Administrators who oversee the review panels that are responsible for assessing development projects in the territory. In this case, the JBACE has determined that without the proper habitat information, it will not be possible to safeguard the threatened caribou in the face of forestry development.
The JBACE's letter is in keeping with the GCCEI's April 2009 resolution calling for a moratorium on forestry development in these areas until it can be assured that the caribou will be protected. It is the contention of the GCCEI that Quebec's Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife is ignoring federal and provincial laws on endangered species to fast track the expansion of the forestry road network so that forestry companies can take advantage of a soon to expire subsidy program that provides public money for 90% of the cost of new roads. Bill Namagoose, the Executive Director for the GCCEI responded:
"It is a shame that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife chose to build free forestry roads for companies without first ensuring the protection of threatened wildlife. This is cause for concern if Government intends to neglect responsibilities for environmental protection as part of the Plan Nord process."