Sask. activists raise concerns about 20-year plan to clear cut boreal forest
As the world watches the Amazon, Saskatchewan advocates want people to know what's happening here
Advocates in the Prince Albert area say there isn't enough public awareness and hasn't been enough consultation for a 20-year logging plan for the nearby boreal forest.
"When are we going to start paying attention to what we're leaving for the next generations?" said Bryan Lee, president of the Fish Lake Métis.
Sakâw Askiy Management Inc., a corporation responsible for 3.3 million hectares of boreal forest north of Prince Albert, has created a 20-year forest management plan for the area. Sakâw Askiy is comprised of several shareholders who harvest wood for product.
Lee said that, at nearly 75 years of age, he is worried about what the plan will mean for his grandchildren, for Woodland Caribou and other animals in the forest, and for the northern communities who rely on trapping and hunting for food.
A month ago, Lee asked the provincial government for a meeting in Prince Albert to discuss his concerns.
"The government is responsible for what's happening in the forests," he said.
He said more people should share that responsibility.
The meeting happened Tuesday. Lee said he was surprised to learn the day before that it wasn't going to be open to the public.
"I don't agree with that," he said. "The greater community needs to be made aware of what's happening."
He's worried that people aren't getting a chance to speak out, while others in southern Saskatchewan might be unaware of what's happening.
Lee said the clear cutting plan shows a lack of consideration for climate change — and for Saskatchewan's high rate of carbon emissions per capita.
Lee said he's not calling for an end to logging, but would like a two-year moratorium in the area.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment said in an email that, in Sakâw's 20-year forest management plan, approximately 19,900 hectares per year is scheduled for harvest in the first decade. In the second decade, that number is 18,800 hectares per year.
The corporation typically submits for more area than it intends to harvest in order to account for factors like weather, markets and equipment breakdown, the spokesperson said. Sakâw has harvested about 60 per cent of its annual allowable cut during the last few years and covered around 10,000 hectares per year, according to the Ministry of Environment.
The 20-year plan was approved in 2018, but it doesn't dictate on-the-ground operations. The Ministry said those must be approved in the operating plan, which is under development and will be submitted in December.
Province says it's a 'modified clear-cut'
Chris Brown, who is with the Ministry of Environment's forestry department, told reporters in Prince Albert Tuesday that the loggers plan to emulate natural disturbances caused by severe wind or fire with their clear cutting patterns.
"They will take out larger areas over a shorter period of time, but within that, they are required to leave retention targets," he said, referring to strips or patches of trees left intact within the clear-cut block.
He called it a "modified clear cut." The corporation spokesperson said they leave an average of nine per cent of trees in the cleared area.
Concerns about enforcement
Brown said there are about 20 provincial forestry staff responsible for inspecting forest companies and that they get some assistance from conservation officers.
They don't check every block, Brown said. Instead they do targeted audits and rely on tips from the public to make sure companies are compliant.
Nathan Puffalt, who works for site management company Discover Ness Creek, said the province appears to have strong regulations in place, but that he has doubts.
"The problem is is that there's insufficient monitoring and making sure that the forestry companies are opening up to those regulations," he said.
Discover Ness Creek rents out the site for festivals and weddings. The company is trying to help those who use the site be more sustainable.
Puffalt said he learned in 2018 about what areas would be targeted by the 20-year forestry plan.
He said Sakâw Askiy Management Inc. did some consultation, but that attendance was poor and he wasn't confident that people in the area were even aware of meetings. Often, notice is given in the form of a newspaper ad.
"We asked them to do more public consultations and we felt like they weren't living up to that," he said.
We're not against logging. We want everyone to have an equal say at the table.- Nathan Puffalt, Discover Ness Creek
When Puffalt heard about Tuesday's meeting, he felt it was time to mobilize.
"It just kind of felt like we were running out of time," he said.
Then he learned it was a closed meeting.
"If they are not going to engage with the public, as they're supposed to, then we're going to engage with the public," he said.
"We're going to hold the government accountable to the standards and regulations that they have put forth."
Puffalt grew up in Estevan. He reflected on how, as a young person, he hardly knew the boreal forest existed in Saskatchewan. Now, he wants people to know about it and its challenges before it's too late. He wondered if people in the province know more about what's happening in the Amazon rainforest than they do their own province.
He acknowledged the work the industry provides, but said that all people, from the tourism industry to residents to trappers, should be involved.
"We're not against logging. We want everyone to have an equal say at the table," he said. "I think all of Saskatchewan is affected by the boreal forest, especially now that we know how important it is to combating climate change and ensuring that we have a stable environment for generations to come."
The corporation is holding meetings to discuss its annual operating plan for 2020-21, which will be submitted to the Ministry of Environment on December 1. It says it is open to making changes to the plan, based on public feedback.
The Ministry of Environment has no public meetings scheduled at this time.