Boreal Forests in Crisis

Peter Hamel

Canada’s assault on the Boreal forest rivals Brazil’s exploitation of the Amazon. In both countries governments and multinational corporations are scheming to clear–cut forests for short–term profit. They treat rivers as sewers, poison the fish and drive aboriginal peoples from their ancestral lands.

The comparisons are startling. The Boreal forest in Canada covers 3.3 million square km while the Amazon rainforest is 3.5 million square km. The best estimate is that 65% of all commercially productive forest in Canada has been logged at least once, leaving only 35% of virgin fragments an area half the size of B.C. It is estimated that only 55% of Canadian forest is regenerated to a productive new forest after five years of logging: in the Amazon it is virtually none. About 10% or 250,000 sq km of Canadian forest is “;not sufficiently restocked”; with quality trees capable of supporting industry. About 12% of the Brazilian Amazon or 420,000 sq km has disappeared. In Canada 2.6% or 85,318 sq km are protected in parks, research sites and extractive reserves. It is estimated that there are some 100,000 Indians and Metis, mostly Cree, living in the Boreal forest. There are about 170,000 Indians living in the Amazon forest.

There is now a new assault to exploit the Boreal forest from B.C. to Quebec. There are 24 new or expanded pulp mills and seven paper mills, worth over $10 billion, under construction or in the planning stage. Nearly 100% of Canada’s most productive Boreal forest, including provincial and federal parks and wildlife reserves, has been locked up in 20–year renewable leases ready for the chain saw.

In Alberta, the province has dealt away timberlands almost the size of Great Britain. This new land rush was completed in December 1988, before most Canadians knew about it. One of the chief beneficiaries has been the Japanese multinational Diashowa. It has just completed a pulp mill 10 km north of Peace River and has plans for two more to be completed in 1993 and 1998.

The Alberta government granted Diashowa a 20–year lease to 25,000 sq km adjacent to the Peace River and an additional 15,000 sq km reserved for expansion plus $65 million for roads, rail lines and a bridge. Diashowa recently purchased from Canadian Forest Products the cutting rights to Wood Buffalo National Park, the last great stand of old growth spruce in Alberta. The lease expires in 2002. The Diashowa mill will dump 5000 tonnes of chlorinated organic compounds into the Peace River each year.

There are now over 50 organizations representing 300,000 Albertans who want the destruction to stop until there has been a comprehensive public review of the socio–economic and environmental impacts.

The land leased to Diashowa overlaps with the land claimed by the Lubicon Lake First Nation. Neither Government nor company approached the Cree before the deal was signed. The project was announced by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Bill McKnight, in late 1987. He was also the minister for the Western Economic Diversification Program. The federal government says the Lubicon have no right to the trees.

The Lubicon case in well–known. This Cree community was missed by the Treaty 8 party in 1899, but was promised a reserve by the federal government in 1940. They never received it.
Until the 1970’s the Lubicon were able to live their traditional lifestyle in isolation 100 km east of Peace River. In 1978 an all–weather road into Lubicon land was completed. The next year the province and oil companies launched a major invasion.

By 1982 there were more than 400 oil wells within 24 km of Little Buffalo. Traditional hunting and trapping trails were turned into private oil roads, traplines were systematically bulldozed and most of the wildlife was killed or scared off.

The number of moose killed for food declined rapidly. Trapping incomes were devastated. Welfare soared from 10% in 1981 to over 95% in 1983. While the people suffered the oil companies were removing an estimated $1 million a day from the land.

After countless court actions and fruitless negotiations the Lubicon decided to assert jurisdiction to their traditional territory. It happened on October 15, 1988. Five days later the RCMP smashed the barricades and arrested 27 people.

This led two days later to the Grimshaw agreement between Premier Getty and Chief Ominayak. It was conditional on federal approval. Negotiations have not succeeded. In January 1990 the Minister of Indian Affairs, Pierre Cadieu, wrote to the chief saying; “;Your contention that your way of life has been destroyed similarly lacks foundation.”;

This article appeared in The Connexion Digest #54, February 1992.

Peter Hamel in Quaker Concern, Spring 1991, Vol. 17, No. 1. Peter Hamel is the Consultant for National Affairs for the Anglican Church of Canada and sits on the steering committee of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition. Quaker Concern is published by Canadian Friends Service Committee, 60 Lowther Ave., Toronto, Ontario M5R 1C7



Subject Headings