Managing forestry development in Eeyou Istchee

Forests, their management and exploitation, have always been of key concern for the Crees, particularly for the southerly Cree communities located within the commercial development zone. These commercial operations present a challenge for the Cree Nation Government. Left unchecked, these activities can have undesirable impacts on the landscape, Cree traplines and on their ability to pursue an active Cree way of life.

Since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in 1975, commercial forestry development has been regarded as an innocuous activity given the presumption that forests continually renew themselves. This is reflected in various ambiguous provisions within Section 22 of the JBNQA that exempt certain aspects of forestry operations (e.g. forestry roads) from the environmental assessment regime. For years, this ambiguous regard to commercial forestry led to the development of a multi-million-dollar forestry industry in Eeyou Istchee. At its height in the mid 1990s, forestry companies in the region were harvesting over 5 million cubic metres of timber from Cree traplines each year.

Adapted Forestry Regime

Our forests in grave danger
In the buildup to the pace of harvest, Cree land users began raising concerns about the impact and scale that commercial forestry activities were having on their traplines and traditional activities. In the most extreme cases several Cree traplines had over 60% of its productive forest clear-cut. In response to this situation the political leaders of the Crees launched a billion-dollar lawsuit against the forest industry and the Governments of Quebec and Canada. This legal challenge was also accompanied by an international public relations campaign informing a wide audience on how the forest industry was affecting the Cree way of life.

Reclaiming our way of life
Ultimately, this matter was settled with the signing of the Paix des Braves Agreement in 2002. The Agreement signed by the Crees and Quebec established the Adapted Forestry Regime whose objectives are to provide a greater consideration for the Cree traditional way of life and sustainable development. This is primarily accomplished by setting strict parameters on when, where and how much forest harvesting may occur which is guided by a comprehensive consultation process with Cree land users and forest management planners.

Forward thinking
As a testament to the Adapted Forestry Regime’s impact, 15 years after its introduction the annual commercial forest harvest in Eeyou Istchee is now less than 50% of where it was at its peak. Despite this success, the Cree Nation and Quebec Governments continue together in building and refining the Adapted Forestry Regime to account for new challenges such as the incorporation of protected areas into the commercial forest landscape and the management of endangered woodland caribou. The most significant new challenge for the parties will be to capitalize on the opportunity provided in the governance agreement with Quebec to develop a collaborative forest management regime for Cat II lands.

The Forestry Unit

The Forestry Unit under the Environment and Remedial Works Department oversees the implementation of Chapter 3 of the Paix des Braves Agreement and analyses Forest Management Plans (FMPs) to ensure that the rules of Chapter 3 are applied within Eeyou Istchee and the Baril-Moses territories. We work with the communities’ Forestry Joint Working Group members (JWG) by providing technical assistance to solve any forestry-related conflicts between the Cree land-users and Quebec during forestry consultations.