The draft forest act recently released for public consultation does a fair job of outlining what planning is required before trees can be cut down in the Yukon.
It does a fair job outlining the kinds of licences that will be handed forest companies to allow them to cut down trees.
It does a fair job identifying tools that should encourage compliance with the forest act and also allow enforcement of the act.
So, all in all, it does a fair job at doing the things that need to be done so that people can cut trees.
In this regard, our draft act is on par with other provincial forest acts in Canada.
But is this what Yukoners want?
Is this what we will settle for?
What about protecting the habitat of the healthy fish and wildlife populations in the Yukon?
What about the other people who go to our forests to make a living — trappers and outfitters and wilderness guides?
What about those who go to our forests for exercise and adventure? Or those who retreat to our forests for spiritual renewal?
Many of us hunt, fish, pick berries and cut firewood in the seasonal rhythm of the northern forest.
What about us?
“The trees know you” is a Tlingit saying stemming from the fact that trees provide medicine and life-giving forces to animals and people, and therefore warrant respect.
There is no word for ‘forest’ in the Kaska language. This is because the Kaska Nations do not believe that the forest can be separated from the land, the earth below or the people.
No matter how you understand these beliefs, they speak to a profound and intimate connection between aboriginal peoples and forests.
Unfortunately, the draft act does not capture the spirit or the intent of what it will mean to have a Euro-Canadian and an aboriginal worldview to draw upon while planning and then using Yukon forests.
The act needs to give a clear sense that all values in Yukon forests will be looked after, not just timber values.
If we opt to stay on par with other provincial forests statutes, the strong connection between Yukon people and forests will begin to erode.
We can already see this erosion in British Columbia where caribou populations are declining at a precipitous rate.
And we can see this in Alberta, where almost all of the forested land is allocated to development and where it is difficult to follow a subsistence life.
If you want a forest act that tries to sustain Yukon social and cultural values as well as the numerous industries that rely on trees — be they on the ground or standing — tell the Yukon government about the parts of the forest that you and your family cherish.
Tell them that you want a Forest Stewardship Act, not a tree-cutting act.
You have until April 28.
The Forest Values Focus Group formed to contribute our experience and knowledge to the new Yukon Forest Act.
We represent diverse forest values, rather than organizational mandates.
We would like to share the knowledge and information we have collected over the past two and a half years as we have reviewed discussion documents related to the development of the forest act.
If you or an organization you are affiliated with would like to meet with representatives of the Forest Values Focus Group, please contact Sue at 668-5678. For more information about the Forest Values Focus Group please visit our website at http://yukonforestvalues.yk.net/
This is the second article in a series that will discuss important issues for you to consider as you assess the draft Yukon Forest Act.