The Yukon government has disregarded its own forestry planning process in Haines Junction, according to local conservation groups and residents.
Before completing the area’s integrated landscape plan, the Yukon’s forest management branch, in consultation with the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations, decided to make one million cubic metres of wood available for harvest.
It was announced in April 2004.
Now, three years later, although there are drafts of the integrated landscape plan, the final document remains incomplete.
“The (plan) should have been done before announcing an actual number,” said Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society conservation campaigner Theresa Gulliver.
“You’ve got to think about a hell of a lot more, like in the integrated landscape plan — wildlife and their habitat — before you can decide, ‘Oh, here’s how much wood we have available.’”
An integrated landscape plan analyzes timber supply, suggests a sustainable amount of wood that can be harvested annually and considers the environmental implications of the harvest.
“The (plan) should always comes first if you’re going to do it correctly,” said the Yukon Conservation Society’s forestry co-ordinator Sue Kemmett.
“We’ve gone from, ‘Oh, we’re going to keep the wildlife happy in our strategic plan,’ to, ‘Here’s the number, it’s a million cubic metres,’” added Gulliver.
“There’s a gap there.”
Three companies have already submitted proposals to log part of the one million cubic metres.
But the permiting process will be lengthy, said Roger Brown, who works in forest management for the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations.
“Any permits probably wouldn’t occur till winter 2009,” he said.
So the Yukon’s forest management branch opened 160,000 cubic metres in the Quill Creek area for immediate harvest.
“The Quill Creek bench has been considered an interim wood supply while the integrated landscape plan process is being completed,” said Brown.
The Quill Creek harvest plan came into effect in November 2005, just before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act was established.
The Yukon government assessed the Quill Creek harvest plan under YESSA’s predecessor, the Environmental Assessment Act.
While YESSA assessments are done at arm’s length from the government, assessments under the Yukon’s Environmental Assessment Act were government-run.
Worried by the government’s in-house assessment of the Quill Creek plan, Haines Junction resident and electrical engineer Dieter Gade wrote to Premier Dennis Fentie, asking that the plan be submitted to YESAA.
On March 30, 2006 Energy, Mines and Resources minister Archie Lang responded.
“Two months prior to YESAA coming into effect the environmental assessment for the Quill Creek Harvest Planning Area was initiated by the forest management branch,” wrote Lang.
Five permits, approximately 60,000 cubic metres, were issued under Yukon’s Environmental Assessment Act.
Permits for the remaining 100,000 cubic metres must be approved under YESSA, wrote Lang.
“The forest management branch is preparing to submit the (plan) for the Quill Creek Bench … for a YESAA assessment.”
It didn’t happen.
A year later, on April 2, 2007, Lang wrote Gade another letter.
It said the Quill Creek harvest plan would not be assessed under YESSA because it was already assessed by the government’s Environmental Assessment Act.
“I hope this clarification will assist in resolving any misunderstandings regarding the applicable environmental legislation for this project,” wrote Lang.
“YESAA only assesses projects, not plans,” said YESAA spokesperson Rob Yeomans.
And under YESAA individual permits for Quill Creek continue to be issued, he said.
But YESAA shouldn’t be issuing permits without having assessed the entire harvest plan, said Kemmett.
“This doesn’t allow the YESSA board to make any higher-level or bigger-picture decisions because it’s all kind of piecemeal.”
The most recent draft of the area’s integrated landscape plan makes reference to wildlife corridors.
“A high priority needs to be placed on maintaining functioning movement corridors … between adjacent watersheds,” it states.
But this is impossible if the Quill Creek plan isn’t assessed as a whole, said Kemmett.
“The YESAA board can’t make any real recommendations on having un-logged connected areas through a larger area, because they’re just looking at little blocks that will be logged,” she said.
“It makes it impossible to evaluate whether or not the logging is going to have cumulative or additive impacts on the wildlife and the water and all the other values.”
Also, the government isn’t following it’s own recommendations, said Gade, referencing treed buffer zones around bodies of water.
Yukon’s Environment department requires a two-kilometre belt of trees along rivers, he said.
“But this isn’t in the Quill Creek harvest plan.”
“Whatever values there are exist at a level that’s bigger than Quill Creek,” added Kemmett.
“No one is looking at that, and they can’t because all they get are these piecemeal applications to assess.”
The Quill Creek harvest plan doesn’t follow the draft integrated landscape plan, said Gade.
“And I have made more than one request that it be updated to conform with it,” he said.
The draft integrated landscape plan states that logging can only take place in areas where more than 30 per cent of the trees are dead.
And it states: “only a small percentage of live trees can be harvested from any site.”
The Quill Creek harvest plan doesn’t follow these specifications.
It states: “… a natural shelterwood system is prescribed, where the overstory is removed in a single pass.”
That means it’s all logged at once, said Kemmett.
It also states: “… the removal of all overstory stems in the identified blocks increases the economic potential.”
Nowhere does it state that only dead trees will be logged.
“It’s not clear, in Quill Creek, how live trees are going to be protected, or if they are,” said Kemmett.
It is also unclear whether the Quill Creek wood supply is part of the million cubic metres made available for harvest, or whether it is an additional supply, she said.
“I have not been able to get an answer from the forest management branch.”
Champagne/Aishihik also finds the Quill Creek Bench harvest plan “inadequate”, according to several letters from the First Nation.
Special projects manager Sheila Greer is particularly concerned about heritage sites in the logging area.
The Quill Creek plan “relies upon untrained forestry field workers, provided only with a booklet with pictures of possible site types, working in conditions where sites would be covered with snow, to recognize undocumented heritage sites they may encounter and therefore stop work as required by law,” she wrote in a series of letters to the YESSA board.
“In light of the fact that heritage sites are non-renewable resources and once destroyed cannot be recovered, the foregoing approach to protection of sites that document the history of the people of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations is not acceptable.”
Meanwhile, the integrated landscape plan should be completed in May, said Brown.
And Champagne/Aishihik “fully expects to ensure that the integrated landscape plan guidelines will be fully implemented for forest harvest-related activities in the Quill Creek Bench area after the 2006-2007 winter harvesting season,” Brown wrote in a letter to YESAA’s Haines Junction office, dated January 2, 2007.
The integrated landscape plan must be completed before more wood is harvested, said Gulliver.
“And that includes identifying and delineating landscape corridors —everything from grizzly bears and sheep and voles should all be taken into consideration, and what they need across that landscape, before we decide where this wood is going to come from,” she said.
“We need to determine how we match the number of trees to be harvested, to the land. There’s a big gap there and nobody knows how to answer that yet.”
Both Lang and forest management branch director Gary Miltenberger refused comment on the Quill Creek harvest plan.