In a last-minute decision, the Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee (COMEX) has agreed to postpone the public hearing on the construction of forest access roads that would impact the Broadback Forest, one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Quebec's boreal forest. This decision was requested by the Chief of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi, who is calling for comprehensive protection of this forest, which plays a vital role in safeguarding the Cree way of life, protecting the endangered Woodland Caribou, as well as contributing to the fight against climate change.
With all eyes on the COP21 conference in Paris, the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi wishes to point out that the old-growth trees, bogs and soil in the Broadback's intact landscape absorb tonnes of greenhouse gases, helps mitigate climate change and serve as a critical carbon storehouse. In contrast, soil disturbance resulting from road-building and logging can release stored carbon into the atmosphere, adding to the burden of greenhouse gases. "We are offering today a remarkable opportunity for Quebec to take a leadership position and be a champion of the fight against climate change by supporting the comprehensive protection of the Broadback forest. It is a necessary decision for the Cree people, a wise decision for Quebec and a smart decision for the world," said Marcel Happyjack, chief of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi.
Since the 1970s, a 32,000-kilometre maze of access roads has been pushed through the traditional Waswanipiterritory, disrupting habitat for the Woodland Caribou, moose and other animals. "The Community of Waswanipi will no longer accept major forest access roads that will affect the Woodland Caribou, nor projects where the environmental impacts are unclear. This is our our home: we'll do anything that we can to protect it," explained Chief Happyjack.
This position is currently being discussed in a "task force" table, set up after the Agreement to resolve the Baril-Moses dispute signed between the Cree Nation government and the Quebec government on July 13, 2015. "We are not opposing the Agreement, but we are demanding more protected areas than those included in the accord. What we have now is not enough. Major improvements are necessary if we are to address the survival of the caribou herds, climate change and, of course, our way of life as Cree people, that is, hunting, fishing and trapping," added Mandy Gull, deputy chief of Waswanipi.
The latest satellite images show that 90% of the Waswanipi ancestral territory has already been cut or fragmented by the forest industry, which has had a fundamental impact on the Cree way of life. This makes the remaining 10% of intact (virgin) forests rare and of tremendous ecological and cultural value. Protecting significant tracts of intact forests that remain is of critical importance, not only for the Cree Nation, but for Quebec, the rest of Canada and the entire world.
"We are going to stand against logging operations that target one of our last pristine forests and continue our fight for the complete protection of the remaining intact forest on our land. We would like to see this request receive widespread public support," concluded Chief Happyjack.