The great forest giveaway

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Anyone who’s flown over the southern stretches of Eeyou Istchee has seen the vast clearcuts. Bare land as far as the horizon, with little lines of trees perhaps two or three thick bordering lakes and rivers. It is devastation on a grand scale.

In Mistissini’s territory, east of Lac Albanel, this is especially apparent. University researchers classify the forest in this region, what remains of it, as “very sensitive.” It is just to the south of the legal limit for industrial logging. That’s because, the researchers say, the slow-growing black spruce takes 150 to 200 years to grow to maturity.

But the Quebec government is preparing to approve massive new cutting zones to the northeast of Lac Albanel, even paying companies to push new logging roads through the region.

The kicker? Quebec receives a royalty of only 39 cents for each harvested tree. Yes, you read that right: less than four dimes for a tree that may have taken two centuries to reach maturity.

This makes little to no economic sense. In fact, Quebec’s forestry industry has such a grip on the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard that taxpayers take a loss.

In 2015-16, the provincial government invested $542 million managing its public forests on behalf of the logging companies; it received only $258 million in royalties.

But the destruction will only accelerate with the last provincial budget. The Couillard government announced it will now pay for 90% of the cost of building logging roads through the region so that companies can access more remote virgin forests – in Cree territory.

That’s worse than a poor return on investment. That’s simple lunacy.

Harder to enumerate is the environmental damage to a delicate eco-system. The loss of animal habitat, the poisoning of waterways and the subsequent loss of fish species. The traplines of Cree tallymen that will take many generations to recover, if ever.

Premier Couillard appears to be making good on his promise during the 2014 election that he’d “never sacrifice a single job in the forest for the caribou.”

The rhetoric is about jobs, but what Couillard really means is that he will protect corporate profits – even subsidize them with hundreds of millions of tax dollars. The forestry jobs in the region are disappearing along with the forests at any rate. That’s why a 200-year-old tree only costs 39 cents.

He fails – or, more likely, refuses – to see the other jobs that are lost in the rush to destroy the last remaining regions of old-growth forest. The hunting, fishing and tourist opportunities that will disappear for generations. The value of a carbon sink for the global climate at time our planet is heating up faster than even the most radical projections by scientists thought possible. Not to mention the basic value of a healthy eco-system for all its inhabitants.

Like the denuded landscapes that stretch to the horizon, this is a tragedy on a grand scale. All for 39 cents.

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