Mayor of Saguenay village vows to stop logging along Péribonka River

The mayor of a village in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region is vowing to chain herself to a tree before she'll give in to a Forestry Ministry proposal to log a forest in the area townspeople hope to turn into a major tourist destination.

Quebec Forestry Ministry's proposed cutting plans clash with tourism promotion in Lamarche, Que.

Quebec's Forestry Ministry says it has no immediate plans to proceed with a proposal to log a stretch of the Péribonka River. (Radio-Canada)

The mayor of a village in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region is vowing to chain herself to a tree before she'll give in to a Forestry Ministry proposal to log a forest alongside a river that townspeople hope to turn into a major tourist destination.

The 120-kilometre-long Péribonka River flows past Lamarche, Que., 60 kilometres northwest of Saguenay, home to some 500 residents who, according to Mayor Lise Garon, are in need of a new industry to keep the town afloat.

"The tourism industry is our only option," Garon told CBC News.

About a year ago, the town received $100,000 from the Municipal Affairs Ministry to promote tourism.

But in April, Garon learned of a Forestry Ministry report proposing trees be cut along a 14-kilometre stretch of the river's edge.

"If they cut all the trees there — the area that can potentially succeed in attracting tens of thousands of tourists every year — there will be nothing left," Garon said. "The river is the main attraction."

She says she has nothing against the forest industry, but there's no need to cut trees along the river.

"There should be space for the tourism industry and the forest industry."

Forestry Ministry spokesperson Catherine Thibeault said ministry representatives have met with their counterparts in Municipal Affairs, Lamarche's town council and local development groups, and more meetings are planned.

"We respect forest capacity," she said, which means logging will only be approved to the extent that it won't compromise the forest's ability to keep rejuvenating.

CPAWS calls for logging moratorium

Garon says the Environment Ministry also has plans to undertake an environmental protection study in the same area. 

The Environment Ministry hasn't confirmed that study is in the works, and Thibeault said her ministry, which works closely with its Environment Ministry counterparts, is not aware of those plans.

For now, she said, the ministry is legally allowed to go ahead with cutting until any environmental protection study has been completed, deeming the area in need of protection. That means unfinished environmental studies can't prevent logging.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), which looked at public data from 2014 to 2018, said Lamarche is  just one of about 30 places in Quebec where there are logging proposals in areas that have also been undergoing environmental protection studies.

"If it keeps going that way, we are at high risk of not protecting our environment," said Pier-Olivier Boudreault, a CPAWS biologist.

CPAWS says the Forestry Ministry should impose a temporary moratorium on areas where there are studies underway.

An April report from the provincial Forestry Ministry proposed trees be cut along a 14-kilometre stretch of the Péribonka River's shoreline. (Radio-Canada)

"This is a way to make sure the protected areas we create keep their value, either environmental or social," Boudreault said.

"The solution is always discussion," he said.

Garon says she's now received word from the Forestry Ministry that it won't be proceeding with the logging project in the next few years, but she's not convinced that won't change.

She says she thinks the October's provincial election could be influencing decision-making.

"I don't know what to expect," Garon said. "I don't know what will happen next year or the year after."

For her, the fight is far from over.

"I will be the first to chain myself to the trees," Garon said. "And I won't be the only one."