Earlier today representatives of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/Cree Regional Authority (GCCEI/CRA) released the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan and called upon the Marois Government to support their bold initiative. Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said:
“Forty years ago the Government of Québec put the Broadback River on notice for its destruction by way of hydro-development. Today the Crees request the river to be put on notice for its protection.”
Although the Broadback River was spared from its fate as part of the Nottaway-Broadback-Rupert hydro complex with the signing of the Paix des Braves Agreement in 2002, this has not sheltered the river from other forms of development such as mining and forestry cutting. Over the past 40 years development activities have slowly encroached on the perimeter of the Broadback watershed such that only diminishing portions of the watershed remain as intact undisturbed forest. As Chief Paul Gull of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation expressed:
“In Waswanipi’s traditional territory, only the areas around Lake Evans and immediately north of the Broadback river remain road-less, untouched by forestry development. Once these areas are gone, there will be no place left in Waswanipi to show our children what the forest was once truly like when our elders thrived there.”
Building upon the existing protection of the Assinica National Park Reserve that was announced in 2011, the Crees’ Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan would establish inter-connective core protected areas along the river’s corridor and special conservation management zones that would serve as buffers to the core protection. In creating this conservation plan, the Crees also hope to protect the dwindling herds of woodland caribou that reside in the watershed. The Crees believe that their approach is the only credible way for governments to fulfill their legal obligations to protect locally endangered woodland caribou herds that were classified as “non-sustaining” by a recent GCCEI/CRA and Québec Ministry of Natural Resources commissioned study (http://chaireafd.uqat.ca/communique/nouvellesE.asp?Date=2012-10-22%2009:42:10 ).
The GCCEI/CRA notes that the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan marks the entry point in a broader long-term protection strategy for Eeyou Istchee. The inspiration for this strategy comes from the bold protection targets set out in the Plan Nord. Given the precarious state of the Broadback River watershed, and preexisting community proposals for local protection, the GCCEI/CRA decided to promote this as the first Cree Nation protection project. The Grand Chief said:
“The Crees have been fortunate enough to receive wide support for their conservation efforts in the past. We hope that this support continues for our efforts to protect the Broadback River for benefit, not only of the Crees and the residents of James Bay, but for all who appreciate the importance of retaining rare intact ecosystems. We know our territory will undergo tremendous change in the coming years and this is why we must act now to ensure there is sustainable balance in this change.”