Sask. petition calls on government to hit pause on logging

Carlie Letts wants Saskatchewan to put a moratorium on clear cutting plans for the Nesslin Lake area and thousands of people have signed a petition in agreement. 

"We need more time to develop a more sustainable strategy for logging," said Letts, festival manager with the annual Ness Creek Music Festival.

The petition calls on the province to intervene on a logging plan that could begin this autumn. Letts said she wants protection for trees surrounding the Ness Creek festival site, like those near Nesslin Lake and Zig Zag Bay. 

"It's an absolutely beautiful part of our province, just beautiful pristine lakes with amazingly gorgeous forest cover that lines the roads," Letts said. 

She added that the tourism strategy for the area focuses on "sustainable tourism." 

"We were quite shocked when we first saw the proposed plan, and the fact that logging could happen as early as September of 2020 is just unbelievable," Letts said. "We would like to have a seat at the table and be brought into consultations."

Letts said clear cutting the forest could burden businesses relying on next season to get their footing back after struggling due to COVID-19 restrictions and cancellations.

"Having the spaces that we're hoping people will want to come back to just be completely damaged during this time would be absolutely terrible."

Letts said the petitioners recognize forestry's contributions to the economy and the jobs, but that an intact forest is also vital to the area.

Nathan Puffalt said he wants the province to evaluate economic impact. 

"We know what the value of that forest is to the forestry companies once every 80 years, but what's the value of that forest to all the tourism operators, all the communities, all the traditional land users in 80 years?"

He's working with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to promote Saskatchewan's boreal forest with videos. Part of that work involves the area around the Ness Creek site. 

Puffalt said it's "incredibly complicated" to get people to care when they don't know what's at stake, particularly southerners who associate the province with prairie. His goal is to help people feel connected to the forests.

"If we don't see any movement it's going to ignite some passion in a lot of people's hearts," Puffalt said. "If it just goes ahead as everything is planned, it's going to be devastating."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment said the ministry is aware of the petition.

"The ministry continues to engage with a group expressing concerns about logging in the Nesslin Lake area, meeting with representatives as recently as March, but has not confirmed that they are affiliated with the organizers of the petition," they said.

Issue will continue even if petition successful 

Sylvia McAdam has long called for an end to clear cutting in the area. She is nêhiyaw, registered to Big River First Nation, and is a co-founder of Idle No More. Her great-grandfather was a signatory to Treaty 6.

McAdam said that even if the petition is successful, people will "keep going in circles," trying to fight clear-cutting until larger issues are addressed. 

"It's still the same situation, unless Canada abolishes and quits relying on the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis for extracting all resources across Canada on Indigenous land," she said. 

The Doctrine of Discovery was a series of 15th century papal bulls that were the basis for Europeans claims over Indigenous land.

"That's the belly of the beast here," she said. "We're always going to come back to this notion that Canada has title over the land, therefore believing that they can extract resources from the land at any time." 

McAdam said the act of clear cutting in the area violates Treaty 6 and leaves her wondering, "Where are we going to hunt? Where are we going to fish? To gather?" 

"It impacts hunting, the animals, the gathering, the medicines," she said. "It impacts who I am and my way of being as an Indigenous person."

Bryan Eneas/PAnow/JPBG

The lands to the north, east and south of the Ness Creek festival site — such as Nesslin Lake and Delaronde Lake — have been used heavily for tourism, recreation and  traditional use, NDP MLA Cathy Sproule said. 

"For many, many years the logging companies had not cut in that area," she said.

Sproule co-founded the Ness Creek festival in the 1990s and the festival's office is in her riding. 

She said the messaging is that Carrier Forest Products needs to cut the area to meet requirements. The B.C. company runs the sawmill in Big River, Sask. 

Sakâw Askiy Management Inc. is the corporation responsible for the Prince Albert Forest Management Agreement, which includes the Nesslin Lake area, and facilitates forest management in the area for shareholders. One of the shareholders is Carrier Forest Products.

"The people in the area are saying we need to find somewhere else for them to go," Sproule said. 

 The FMA holder, Sakâw Askiy, has developed the required 20-year forest management plan, which was approved in March 2018.

A Ministry of Environment spokesperson said Friday that the 20-year forest management plan was approved in 2018, but that, "Sakâw and its member companies develop proposed annual operating plans, and public consultation is an important part of this process."

The spokesperson encouraged anyone with concerns to share them with the company.

Neither Sakâw nor Carrier Forest Products responded to CBC's request for comment.