Logging has been carried out and others are planned in old forests in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean that are part of an Aboriginal protected area project and frequented by woodland caribou, a decision by the Legault government described as ” provocation” and “affront” by observers, who fear it will ignite the powder.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MRNF) recently authorized cutting in forest areas located south of the Pipmuacan reservoir, in the “annual program of harvesting activities 2023-2024” – the PRAN, in forestry jargon -, despite the commitment made to the international community by Prime Minister François Legault in December to create new protected areas, particularly at the initiative of Aboriginal peoples, and with the approach of the publication of the recovery strategy for the caribou of Quebec government.

Others were cut in 2021-2022 and in 2022-2023, in the same sector, also discovered the Innu community of Pessamit, which is protesting to see the Ministry ignore its request not to carry out logging. on the territory targeted by its Pipmuakan protected area project – here spelled in Innu-Aimun, the Innu language.

“The caribou live in these last massifs, which are the oldest forests in our territory”, was alarmed the vice-chief of the Innu Council of Pessamit Jérôme Bacon St-Onge, in an interview with La Presse.

The Innu Council calculates that 357 hectares (3.57 km⁠2) of mature forests that will fall under chainsaws are located inside the Pipmuakan protected area project, in an area where the recent presence of caribou is confirmed by the telemetric monitoring carried out by the Quebec government.

The area could reach nearly 500 hectares with other cutting authorizations to come in the coming weeks, said by email a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests who refused to identify themselves.

Added to this are some 630 hectares where cutting has been authorized and carried out over the past two years in the territory of the Pipmuakan protected area project, said this anonymous representative, bringing the total to more than 1,100 hectares (11 km⁠2).

“It is not a mistake for the harvest planned in the Pipmuacan project,” confirmed an official from the Ministry of Forests to the Innu Council of Pessamit, in an email that La Presse was able to consult.

“As long as a given territory is not registered in the register of protected areas […] it remains available for forest planning”, justified Flore Bouchon, press officer for the Minister of Natural Resources and Forests, Maïté Blanchette Vézina , who declined La Presse’s interview request.

The Pipmuakan protected area project was submitted in November 2020, but it is still at the “analysis” stage, said Mélina Jalbert, press secretary to the Minister of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks, Benoit Charette.

The Ministry of Forests is “provocative” by deliberately allocating stumpage rights in areas of high ecological value likely to be protected by the Ministry of the Environment, accuses biologist and forest engineer Louis Bélanger, a retired professor from the Laval University and head of the forest commission at Nature Québec.

“It’s an affront,” adds biologist Pier-Olivier Boudreault, director of conservation at the Quebec section of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP), an organization that helped the Innu of Pessamit develop their project. of protected area.

“[The community] clearly opposed the cuts in that sector,” he recalls, calling for intervention by the minister, or even the prime minister.

“What do they want?” asks Louis Bélanger. They want to push the Innu to close the roads? What are they left with after working in good faith? »

“We’re going to hold a meeting to see what can be done,” said Vice-Chief Jérôme Bacon St-Onge. The court, a blockade, everything is possible. »

The situation is all the more “unacceptable” since the Legault government made a commitment at the 15th United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP15), last December in Montreal, to protect 30% of Quebec’s territory by 2030, in particular through protected areas of indigenous initiative, recall MM. Belanger and Boudreault.

“The Prime Minister announced this to the world,” said Mr. Bélanger.

“It’s a fine example of the government apparatus working against itself,” laments Mr. Boudreault, especially since the authorization for the cuts comes as Quebec must unveil its caribou recovery strategy in June. , he said.

The immediate implementation of the Pipmuakan protected area project was also recommended by the Independent Commission on Woodland and Mountain Caribou1, set up by former Minister of Forests Pierre Dufour.

The officials of this ministry “don’t even listen to the commission that their government has made”, launches Louis Bélanger.

The Pipmuacan reservoir straddles the administrative regions of Côte-Nord and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, but it is only on the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean side that cuts have been made and are planned.

Louis Bélanger sees this as proof of the influence exerted by the elected municipal officials of this region, united within the Boreal Forest Alliance, who exert all their weight to avoid the loss of “forestry opportunities”, as reported by the investigation. from La Presse published on April 112. “There is a connection to be made,” he said.

The decision to authorize these cuts was taken at the regional level, said Minister Blanchette Vézina’s press secretary.

The anonymous spokesperson for the Ministry for his part affirmed that there had been no influence from regional elected officials on the decision.

These cuts in old forests frequented by caribou disturb the federal government, which is pressuring Quebec to better protect the large deer.

“This situation needs to be addressed,” said Kaitlin Power, press secretary to Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault.

Ottawa leaves the threat of intervening by decree if the actions of Quebec to protect the caribou are insufficient in its eyes.

Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette was stingy with comments, simply recalling that “the planning of logging falls under the [Ministry of Forests],” he said in a statement sent by his attaché. release, Mélina Jalbert.

La Presse tried to reach the forestry cooperative Forestra, which obtained the stumpage rights in question, in vain.

Logging could be authorized in other sectors frequented by caribou in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, worries the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh. “Potential sectors of intervention” have been targeted in particular along the Péribonka River in the 2023-2028 logging planning of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests, which has been the subject of consultations in recent months. Some of these areas are frequented by caribou, government telemetry tracking shows. Some are even the subject of “interim measures” which should protect them from any logging while waiting for the development of the caribou recovery strategy, deplore the Innu.