Liard First Nation challenges forestry bill

The Liard First Nation has big problems with Yukon’s proposed forest resources act. The draft law, intended to kick-start the…

The Liard First Nation has big problems with Yukon’s proposed forest resources act.

The draft law, intended to kick-start the territory’s forestry industry, may instead result in another protracted court battle, the First Nation warns.

Liard is one of the few Yukon First Nations with no final agreement. As part of the Kaska Nation, it claims close to one-quarter of Yukon’s landmass as its traditional territory. This includes much of Yukon’s boreal forest.

The forestry bill clears the way for large-scale commercial logging on its territory, said the First Nation.

Doing so “creates uncertainty about the protection of the land and forests for future generations of aboriginal rights holders,” states a 15-page position paper released by the First Nation on Thursday.

The draft law also “deprives our people of the ability to realize certain economic gains associated with harvesting rights,” the paper states.

Gary McRobb, Liberal MLA for Kluane, put it more succinctly when he told the legislature yesterday that “this act breaks the law and ignores Kaska’s rights.”

“This outcome would cast a dark cloud over the entire industry, cause uncertainty, and lead to years of conflict. We don’t need such unproductiveness, simply because this government insists it knows best,” he said.

The government has given the Liard First Nation $120,000 to participate in forestry talks, said Resources Minister Brad Cathers.

He didn’t specify when, or over what length of time, that money was given.

“We are disappointed with Yukon’s general failure to consult with us during the development of this bill,” said Chief Liard McMillan in a letter to government.

The First Nation covered the cost of responding to the bill, he added.

Yukon changed the way it handles forestry management talks in April of this year, said McMillan.

Until then, attempts had been made to co-operate with First Nations through a forestry agreement-in-principle. That deal existed between the Yukon government and the Liard First Nation, Ross River Dena Council and Kaska Dena Council.

But Yukon walked away from that deal in April, said McMillan. Instead, the territory asked the Liard First Nation to participate in direct talks with government.

Seven months later, those talks have yet to begin.

As for the draft act, the Liard First Nation argues that none of the laws it would create would apply to Kaska land.

Legal controversies halted logging on Kaska land in 2002, when Ottawa was preparing to devolve control over natural resources to Yukon.

The dispute led to a federal report produced by George Tough, who recommended that “no large-scale allotments of timber will occur until higher-level land-use planning is complete.”

This planning has yet to occur, noted McMillan. Yet the act appears to clear the way for large-scale logging.

The First Nation hopes to avoid settling the dispute in court, said McMillan in an interview.

“We’d certainly rather negotiate with government than litigate,” he said.

But his position paper warns that Yukon “disposes of resources in our lands at its own peril, and will be held accountable.”

“We’re putting the government on notice,” said McMillan.

Opposition parties are calling on the government to withdraw the bill until this dispute is resolved.

The Yukon Conservation Society is also concerned with the draft law.

The act would permit the forest management branch to build logging roads anywhere, regardless of land-use plans, forest-management plans or endangered-species legislation, it said.

The act also allows the resources minister to overrule forest management plans. Doing so would run contrary to the government’s stated plans to follow community-based forestry plans, states the conservation society in a news release.

Also of concern is how the legislation is silent on the export of raw logs. This is expected to be dealt with in the act’s regulations.

The Yukon government should hold “full public consultation” before it develops these regulations, said the society’s release.

Rather than create an industry based on exporting raw logs, the territory should help create manufacturing jobs that add value to raw lumber, said its executive director Karen Baltgailis.

“We should also be protecting Yukoners’ ability to hunt, not putting wildlife at risk through networks of logging roads and big clear-cuts,” she said in the release.

“And we should be protecting more stable industries like tourism, which depend on maintaining vibrant landscapes and wildlife to draw people and revenue to the Yukon.”

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.