Northern Sask. residents want boreal forest off the chopping block

Sylvia McAdam remembers the medicine she once picked from the land near Big River, Sask. She can't find it now — and says it never returned after the forested area was chopped.

She described how the area has changed post-clearcut. More wind passes through the exposed land, but there is an absence of wildlife. The waterways have changed and the trees on the fringes of the cut are falling. 

There will be more tree-harvesting in the north, as Sakâw Askiy Management Inc. moves forward on its 20-year plan for the 3.3 million hectares of boreal forest north of Prince Albert. About 19,900 hectares per year are scheduled for harvest in the first decade, and 18,800 hectares in the second. Forestry follows mining as one of the biggest industries in the province. 

"I'm not going to see it come back in my lifetime, maybe my grandchildren, and it's not going to come back the same way," McAdam said. "Not only do I see it on my homelands, but I'm driving through other family's hunting lands and I see exactly the same thing."

Bryan Eneas/PAnow/JPBG

McAdam is co-founder of Idle No More. Her great-grandfather was a signatory to Treaty 6, and she is registered under the Indian Act to the Big River First Nation — "located in the very heart of the lands in question." 

She doesn't believe that there has been proper consultation or consent for the logging operations. 

"I'm really concerned and horrified that the government, the province, would go to Indian Act leadership to manufacture consent on behalf of people like me who are the title holders of the hunting lands off reserve," McAdam said. 

"They manufacture that consent on behalf of large numbers of people."

Elected chiefs and council are the legal government body on the majority of reserves per the Indian Act.  

Big River First Nation is one of the three bands that make up A.C. Forestry, which is a shareholder with Sakâw Askiy, but McAdam said some locals remain uninformed about what's happening. Consultations that happen off reserve without the people and title holders to the land are problematic, she said. 

"We are protecting and defending our homes.... We're not protesters nor are we activists or environmentalists," she said, adding that as long as the process of colonization is used to assert jurisdiction over Indigenous lands, there will be resistance. 

"What is it going to take for people to be outraged and horrified? I see some of it, ripples of it, beginning to happen in Saskatchewan — but is it quick enough?" 

Province says consultation is ongoing

Aaron Kuchirka, executive director with the Ministry of Environment's Forest Service Branch, said the ministry is committed to working with "stakeholders" to ensure that "harvesting of timber within Saskatchewan is done sustainably and in consideration of all the values that we appreciate whether they be economic, social or environmental."

Kuchirka said consultation will remain ongoing and occurs on an annual basis as forest management groups submit their annual plans. 

Submitted by Sylvia McAdam

"If we're not managing the forests and managing their lifecycle including their disturbance and renewal, our forests will become degraded and less available to provide habitat, protection for hydrology lakes, soils and other things," he said.

Kuchirka said renewal efforts typically begin within two years after the initial harvest. He said the forests are considered old when the trees reach the age of 80 to 100 years, and said that means they need to be managed. 

"We hear over and over again that it emulates natural disturbances of fire and wind. The short answer to that is there is nothing in nature that looks or acts like a clearcut," said trapper and author Harold Johnson on CBC's Blue Sky radio program. 

"We know as trappers that if you go into a clearcut that's been replanted 40 years later, the trees are tall; the animals have not come back."

When it comes to renewal and regeneration, that's up to the corporation responsible for the forest management area.  The province is supposed to step in if corporations fail to meet renewal obligations. 

As a trapper, Johnson also cited concerns about caribou populations affected by habitat loss. Woodland caribou are listed as a threatened species under the federal Species At Risk Act. 

"They've taken all of the high ground. All I have left on my trap line now is muskeg. I will never in my life ever see a wild caribou by my trap line again," he said. 

"We are not deforesting northern Saskatchewan, but we are degrading it to an extreme extent."