Northern trappers to block roads if not consulted by forestry industry

Land-users near Île-à-la-Crosse want industry to hold off on new projects until in-person meetings are possible, if not they say they will block access

BC-based Carrier Lumber will be resubmitting new harvesting plans for the 21-22 fiscal year. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Environment

74-year-old Cree-Métis land-user Theresa Laliberte said if any forestry company plans to cut on her family’s trapline without consulting them in person first they will set up blockades and stop them.

She’s afraid the trapline her family has used for generations at Beaver River, near Île-à-la-Crosse in northern Saskatchewan, will be at risk if logging companies decide to cut in the area this summer. 

She said she began to worry after she received a map from a logging company with her trapline located in a proposed cutting area. She said her family wasn’t consulted. 

“All they do is they send maps to every person that has a trapping license. Well, I had that map and the trapline is on that side of the map,” Laliberte said.

“They think they’re going to step on us, as if they own everything. But we are going to fight for it. We’re not going to let them. Not only my family, the other trappers are going to come, too.” 

Laliberte’s 97-year-old mother Margaret McCallum only speaks Cree, and relayed that she wasn’t happy with the news, either. 

“We’ll lose everything over there — there will be nothing — no animals. We will have nowhere to trap. I’m just going to go and pitch up a tent in the middle of the road. No one is going to go through,” McCallum’s daughter translated from Cree. 

Roads and access to the area where they live are blocked off because of the pandemic, making even small in-person meetings difficult, they said. 

Laliberte and her mother want any new forestry projects to be put on hold until that can happen. Many other land-users feel the same way, they said.

“We’ve got to have at least a meeting — to see them in person… All the trappers will be there and this way everybody will be happy,” Laliberte said.

“Tell them to wait until this sickness is over.” 

Athabasca NDP MLA Buckley Belanger called on BC-based Carrier Lumber Ltd., which harvests in the area, to listen to land-users like McCallum and her daughter. He said the pandemic makes it impossible for proper consultation to happen. 

“I am asking Carrier to pause forestry planning and to pause harvesting. You do a great disservice by not engaging people to the extent you should have because we cannot gather — because of COVID,” Belanger said.

“Look at the average traditional resource user… they practically live off the land. They’ve been there for years, and years, and years. All of a sudden they see this forestry activity, and trees being cut down and clear cutting happening — and they don’t know anything about it. That is where the issue is. 

“We cannot have public meetings, because it’s against the public health order to have public meetings. And if you’re a traditional person, you don’t use the internet — you don’t use the computers that they’re suggesting is good enough for this consultation process. It puts pressure on the people and it puts pressure on industry.” 

Belanger said he supports sustainable forestry and the jobs that come with it. He said the province is at fault for putting the onus on industry to consult with impacted communities. 

He called Saskatchewan’s 2010 First Nation and Métis Consultation Policy Framework “a recipe for disaster” that he said creates “strife and conflict between resource companies — and people that see their resources being hauled out.” 

“The government is washing their hands of it… They’re not putting any effort or any thought to this whole process — which I think is a discredit to the people of Saskatchewan and our province as a whole from the economic perspective,” Belanger said. 

“The fact of the matter is, they should have good, robust consultation with the communities. We can’t do that because of COVID. So they should be smart. Be patient, because at the end of the day you want buy-in from the region — and the only way you’re going to get buy-in is if you’ve had good consultation with the people.”

Carrier President  Bill Kordyban said his company is open to dialogue. All residents need to do is call up their planner. 

“Carrier is happy to address people’s concerns regarding our plans. If we become aware of people’s concerns, we will work to resolve them prior to any operations starting in the area,” Kordyban said. 

“Unless and until we know what those concerns are, however, it is difficult to respond in a meaningful way.”

Kordyban said more than four-hundred letters were mailed out to various resource users in the area, providing their planner’s contact information.

That included 77 registered letters sent to trappers, outfitters, Metis and First Nation leadership, traditional resource users, and others inviting them to phone the company. 

Trappers and outfitters were given an additional second insert for either trapping or outfitting boundaries, he said. 

He said stakeholders could ask for more detailed information, request a format other than online such as hardcopy, discuss over the phone, or, if there were no other options, schedule a field meeting in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. 

“I also understand that more detailed map packages have already been provided to First Nations and Metis leaders, and to any resource users that have requested it,” Kordyban said. 

“As we are all aware, large in-person gatherings were, and are, restricted due to Covid protocols.”

Kordyban said his company employs 100 people directly and “at least over 300” directly and indirectly in Saskatchewan.

Ministry of Environment spokesperson Chris Hodges confirmed that there have been no new plan approvals in the area. Carrier had submitted a plan for 20-21 but withdrew it.

“We understand Carrier will be resubmitting new plans for the 21-22 fiscal year. As part of that submission, they will need to complete engagement with trappers and other land users to determine if there are any issues and to consider how they might address those issues,” Hodges said. 

“Along with this engagement, the Ministry would carry out duty to consult with local First Nations and Métis communities.”

The Ministry of Energy and Resources approves new and renewed licences on allocations of more than 20,000 cubic metres. The Ministry of Environment reviews harvesting plans, which includes the duty to consult process.

Hodges said the two ministries work closely together to ensure the “long-term sustainability of Saskatchewan’s forests and the thriving industry they support.”

“We recognize that online options are not always appropriate and accessible for everyone, so we use other communication methods, as required,” Hodges said.

“Both government and proponents have always used a variety of communication channels and tools, such as letters, phone calls and meetings, as well as virtual meetings to ensure the health and safety of participants.”

Hodges said the province “takes its duty to consult responsibilities seriously.”  

“Throughout the pandemic, government has continued to fulfill its duty to consult during its review of annual operating plans outlining proposed forest harvesting. Accommodations, such as flexible response deadlines, were made as appropriate.” 

Laliberte and her family are hoping for some flexibility from industry and the government this year. McCallum is meaning to pass the trapline down in the family and wants that way of life to carry on. Laliberte said it’s a life or death situation for them since they all rely on trapping for their livelihoods — and there are no other jobs available to them.

“My mom is worried about losing trees where she’s living because my brothers and my nephews are trapping over there. If they start chopping and taking logs out no animal will be around. They’ll scare them all out. I really wanted to save it for my brothers, my nephews and my niece,” Laliberte said. 

“That’s the only thing we do is trap and fish. My brother always traps and they have fishing. So they’ve got quite a bit to do. That’s the only living they have.”