Dispute over wood harvesting in central Newfoundland pits residents against paper company

·4 min read
This photo, believed to be taken in 1905 in the area known as Charlie's Place, shows Charlie Francis, along with two of his grandsons, Simon and Herbert Francis. (Submitted by Calvin Francis - image credit)
This photo, believed to be taken in 1905 in the area known as Charlie's Place, shows Charlie Francis, along with two of his grandsons, Simon and Herbert Francis. (Submitted by Calvin Francis - image credit)
Submitted by Calvin Francis
Submitted by Calvin Francis

A plan by Corner Brook Pulp and Paper to harvest wood in an area of central Newfoundland has upset some residents of the Glenwood to Gander Bay area, including some Mi'kmaw people.

The paper company has approval, subject to conditions, to cut timber in an area known locally as Charlie's Place, a 63-square-kilometre block of land between the Northwest and Southwest Gander rivers.

One of the conditions is that Corner Brook Pulp and Paper must submit a stakeholder engagement report, which would be based on contact with people who'd expressed concern during the environmental assessment process last year.

But reisdents of the area say the paper company and provincial government are not listening to their concerns.

Calvin Francis, chief of the Gander Bay Indian Band, says the land in question has been used by his family for generations — in fact, his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Francis, is the man for whom the area is named.

He wants it protected from wood harvesting.

"Let's try and preserve this particular spot," said Francis. "We're not asking for Newfoundland. We're not asking for a land claim. We're not asking to take over all of central Newfoundland. We're asking to preserve a spot that means very dearly to us."

Submitted by Calvin Francis
Submitted by Calvin Francis

Plan approved

The paper company's five-year operating plan for Zone 3, which includes Charlie's Place, was released from environmental assessment last October, and issued in December by the provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change.

Corner Brook Pulp and Paper has engaged with people who'd submitted concerns about harvesting in Charlie's Place since that time and, as of Wednesday, had not yet submitted the stakeholder engagement report required before roadwork or logging can occur.

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

A statement from Kruger Inc., which owns the paper mill in Corner Brook, says Corner Brook Pulp and Paper's team "engaged with a few cabin owners of the Gander Bay area on several occasions to provide detailed information on our environmental and forestry management practices."

Environment Minister Bernard Davis's office declined a request for an interview, but sent CBC a statement that said it is "aware that some concerns have been raised by a small number of stakeholders" since the release of the paper company's plan.

Corner Brook Pulp and Paper
Corner Brook Pulp and Paper

More than a few opposed

But people in the area say the consultation and engagement haven't gone far enough, and they feel their concerns are being downplayed.

Francis said his own Gander Bay Indian Band was not contacted as part of the process, as he would have expected.

The provincial environment department said its environmental assessment division sent a letter in July to the Qalipu First Nation, of which Francis is a ward councillor. (Some Mi'kmaw in Central Newfoundland do not have status as members of Qalipu but are members of bands in Glenwood and Gander Bay.)

Appleton Mayor Garrett Watton said his biggest concern is the watershed and the potential impact on municipal water supplies from any silting that might occur as a result of wood harvesting.

Watton said he's also worried about the possibility that harvesting could contribute to rising water temperatures on two scheduled salmon rivers that are an economic generator for the region, with angling guides operating out of his town and nearby Glenwood.

Watton said he hopes no one is dismissing the opposition to wood harvesting as being just a couple of "tree huggers."

"This is not a few people that want to stop this. This is the region. This is a region that is very, very concerned. This impacts a lot of people. It impacts a lot of communities," said Watton.

Submitted by Garrett Watton
Submitted by Garrett Watton

Protected area proposed

Justin Hodge, another area resident who's been spearheading the effort to oppose wood harvesting in Charlie's Place.

After a meeting this week with senior environment department officials, Hodge said, he felt disappointed and frustrated that the concerns of people in the area seemed to be falling on deaf ears.

He said using Charlie's Place for berry picking, trapping, hunting and foraging means residents are able to offset the rising cost of living with food for their table and income from selling pelts or guiding. He said the loss of habitat resulting from wood harvesting in the area would be detrimental to the species on which people rely.

Submitted by Justin Hodge
Submitted by Justin Hodge

Hodge would like to see Charlie's Place declared a protected area, possibly a wilderness reserve.

Charlie's Place was nominated as a potential protected area last year, but Hodge fears they are running out of time.

"I think we can all work together and try to save this little bit of country for future generations," said Hodge.

Hodge said opponents of the wood harvesting are working on a plan for a protest, possibly as early as next week.

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