Groups fundraising for court challenge of Saskatchewan logging policy

Matt Smith/Saskatoon StarPhoenix. A cut block on the highway to Big River, SK on Friday, August 30, 2019.

Spokesperson says logging along the southern boundary of the boreal forest is affecting communities, livelihoods and historic sites.

Bryn Levy, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Groups concerned about increased logging on the edges of Saskatchewan’s boreal forest are raising money to challenge the province’s forestry policy in court.

The Saskatchewan Forest Protection Network and the Big River Forest Advocates are teaming up for a “teach-in” event on Saturday at the St. George’s Senior Citizen’s Center in Saskatoon.

Big River Forest Advocates spokeswoman Cathy Sproule said the fundraising drive comes after years of meetings and advocacy with industry and government have secured only “minor concessions.”

She said the area around Big River and Nesselin Lake is part of the “boreal fringe,” and home to tourism and outfitting businesses, recreational hunters and other forest users being affected by increased logging.

There are also “anthropologically and historically” significant features in the landscape, Sproule said. While she gave the logging industry credit for making efforts to prevent damage to these sites, she said this too often amounts to creating “a pocket in the clearcut” that doesn’t really keep them intact.

The groups hope to be able to have enough money to make an application to the courts under Saskatchewan’s Forest Resources Management Act, with Sproule pointing to a section of the law requiring the government to balance the “need for economic, social and cultural opportunities with the need to maintain and enhance the health of forest land.”

The provincial government has set a target for this decade to double the province’s forestry sector growth by 2030. Sproule suggested this has made it difficult for advocates speaking on behalf of other forest users to to get their message heard.

While she said provincial officials and industry representatives have been willing to come to meetings, many conversations have left her feeling frustrated and dispirited as concerns remain unaddressed, with a court challenge now seen as a necessary step.

Sproule said she’s hopeful an application can be filed this spring after the government releases its annual forestry plan.

Saturday’s event will feature a talk from Halifax-based investigative journalist Joan Baxter, who has reported on logging industry activity for years. They’ll also hear from Dave Rondeau, community archeologist and heritage specialist in Saskatchewan’s north, and Miriam Korner, co-founder of For Peat’s Sake, a group dedicated to preserving muskeg lands in the boreal fringe.