Sierra Club report rips Yukon’s forest management

When it comes to managing forests, the Yukon government is a failure, according to the Sierra Club of Canada.

When it comes to managing forests, the Yukon government is a failure, according to the Sierra Club of Canada.

Last week, the Sierra Club released a database that evaluated the forestry practices of Canada’s provinces and territories, according to the principles of the National Forest Strategy based in Ottawa.

It involves seven commitments for “ecologically and socially sustainable forest management,” including harvest levels, aboriginal rights, land-use plans and protected areas networks.

The commitments span five years, from 2003 to 2008.

All provinces and territories have committed to the strategy, except Alberta, said Sierra Club campaign co-ordinator Rachel Plotkin.

“The purpose of the database isn’t to give the provinces and territories an overall bad grade, but to show most of the provinces and territories aren’t faring all that well in progressive forest management, but that it is possible,” Plotkin said Monday in an interview from Ottawa.

“The information isn’t easily accessible, and one of the good things about our database is that it is upgradeable all the time.

“Provincial governments have made a commitment, and, ideally, (the database) will highlight that commitment and show where it is not being followed through.”

The Yukon fared poorly in 16 of the Sierra Club’s categories, and “fair” in only three.

Several categories did not apply to Yukon forests, where there is only minimal industrial activity.

“One of the things that came up in the Yukon is, some of the guidelines are progressive, but they are not policies,” said Plotkin.

“It stands out, in my mind, as being one of the worst for protected areas.”

The Yukon has no long-term forest tenure policy for First Nations, communities or industry groups, according to the database.

There’s no “annual allowable cut,” and access routes into forests are foremost “roads to resources” that don’t consider economics or cultural and environmental values, it says.

“There is no legislation that ensures the protection of habitat for species at risk.

“When the current government came into power in 2002, it abandoned the work of the previous government in developing species at risk legislation.”

There are 11 “fully protected” areas in the Yukon, including Tombstone Territorial Park, where there are inactive mining claims that could recommence activity at any time.

And 2.2 per cent of the Yukon’s land base is “partially protected” by “special management areas” and “habitat protection areas.”

“Protected areas are not a priority for the current Yukon Party government, nor apparently are they considered a valid land use,” Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society spokeswoman Theresa Gulliver said in a release.

The former Liberal government had a protected areas strategy in draft.

But it was shelved, as soon as the Yukon Party took office.

“We removed a very flawed process,” said Premier Dennis Fentie, who routinely berates former Liberal premier Pat Duncan for attempting a protected areas strategy.

“The impetus for (the strategy) was political, and we’ve gone back as government to where our obligations are,” Fentie said Monday.

The Sierra Club’s data is flawed, said Yukon forest management director Gary Miltenberger.

“It’s an interesting system that they’ve come up with and it’s got potential to be useful, but they haven’t done their homework,” said Miltenberger on Tuesday.

“They haven’t talked to any of the staff in the forest management branch, myself included, about any of the areas they’ve rated the Yukon on.

“Obviously they’ve missed a fair number of information areas that would be directly applicable to the ratings they’ve given the Yukon, so I’m concerned that their research has a fair ways to go yet to accurately reflect the present situation here.

“I don’t know how seriously I’m going to take this. I don’t know that I want to take it very seriously at all.”

The Yukon is taking “a real crack” at meeting its National Forest Strategy commitments, he added.

The Yukon has three regional forest management plans in the works — one in southeast Yukon, one in southwest Yukon, and one in the Teslin area.

“I thought we had fabulous potential across the southern Yukon,” said Yukon Conservation Society spokeswoman Karen Baltgailis, who did some of the research for the Sierra Club database.

The management plans “all have the potential to ensure better forest management than anywhere in the South, but we don’t know yet because we haven’t seen the results of any of them.

“I couldn’t suggest giving high marks to the Yukon without knowing some of these things.”

Only the southwest Yukon strategy is in effect, and the government recently announced that one million cubic metres of wood would be made available in the region.

Much of Baltgailis’ research was done before the disposition. Otherwise, she could have been more critical, she said.

“They put out a request for proposals to industry before anybody had a chance to look at the integrated landscape plan,” she said. “It hadn’t even been completed yet.

“And they haven’t given anybody any input about what volumes should be made available.

“So they get to the most important part of the process, and consultation comes to a shuddering halt.

“In the southwest, I’m losing my faith in the process.”