Logging proposal shocks conservationists

Karen Baltgailis is appalled at the Yukon government and Champagne/Aishihik First Nations’ plan for logging in the territory’s southwest…

Karen Baltgailis is appalled at the Yukon government and Champagne/Aishihik First Nations’ plan for logging in the territory’s southwest corner.

As forestry co-ordinator for the Yukon Conservation Society, Baltgailis has been evaluating the two governments’ proposal to establish a “strategic forest management plan” for the First Nation’s traditional territory near Haines Junction.

Spruce bark beetles have infested more than 350,000 hectares of forest in the region over the last decade.

In November 2004, both governments endorsed a plan that identified 18 “landscape units” and proposed to determine sustainable harvest levels for them, taking ecological factors like wildlife habitat into account.

The process was “open and inclusive,” and the plan’s steering group, which included Yukon government representatives and Champagne/Aishihik members, was open to advice, said Baltgailis.

“We were also promised that we would have a chance to review a number of harvest-level scenarios and levels of impact on the forest,” she said in a release.

“That didn’t happen.”

In April, the steering group released its plan in tandem with a request for industry proposals to log one million cubic metres of wood.

And all the consultation came to a “crashing halt,” said Baltgailis.

The sudden release of the plan “was like a kick in the head from left field,” she said in an interview Friday.

“We were completely not expecting it.”

If one million cubic metres of wood are harvested from the region, “almost half of the mature forest, the bigger stands of trees, would be gone,” said Baltgailis.

“There is almost a direct overlap between the logging zone and a high wildlife area.

“That’s pretty disturbing. Obviously wildlife has needs for mature forest, not just sparse forest or clear cuts.”

Lawrence Joe, director of heritage, lands and resources for the Champagne/Aishihik, resented the suggestion that wildlife concerns are not reflected in the plan.

“As a First Nation, one of our fundamental values is our relationship with the land and with the wildlife,” Joe said Monday.

“I think it would be obscene to suggest that First Nations are not interested in protecting wildlife habitat.

“The adaptive management regime that we’re going through will allow us to do that protection.”

Besides, the plan is still a draft, he said.

“We have had significant consultation on this planning process,” said Joe, who sits on the plan’s steering group with representatives from Energy, Mines and Resources and the Alsek Renewable Resources Council.

Consultations helped the steering group create maps, and harvest levels were proposed at a public meeting last fall, he said.

“We did discuss the integrated landscape plan and the next steps, but we did not commit to take it out to broad public consultation.

“We did say the plan would be made available at a draft stage for comment, and that is what it is right now.”

The one million cubic metres offered to industry is a target, not a maximum or minimum limit.

“It’s a harvest level, not a floor or a ceiling, and we have an adaptive management arrangement established so that we can deal with any changes as we move forward,” said Joe.

“We have identified the protected areas as part of the planning process. That was done way up front.”

There’s 40 per cent more wood in the region than planners had previously estimated, he added.

But a wood disposition of such magnitude will not stimulate the kind of industry the southwest Yukon can sustain, said Baltgailis.

Most of the wood isn’t good for saw logs, she said.

The Champagne/Aishihik would be better off with a modular fuel log facility similar to a project that two entrepreneurs in Watson Lake are trying to kickstart, she said.

“With those things, you can start small. You start out by hiring five people and go through maybe 20,000 cubic metres of wood a year, and then as you get people trained up you add another module and double the number of employees.

“In a community where you don’t have a trained work force, that’s the kind of thing that makes sense.

“You don’t want to have some big company come in, log 200,000 cubic metres a year for five years, and then they’re gone.”

The request for harvest proposals closes July 17.