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April 2004


Shaping Labrador’s forest industry

Agreements with aboriginal groups are helping to shape Labrador’s forest industry and may result in a new sawmill being built in the region.

By Bert Pomeroy

 Although some harvesting has been done in central Labrador, the area has some seven million hectares of virtually untouched black spruce and balsam fir.

An ecosystem-based approach to management could hold the key to opening the door to one of the largest tracts of roadless boreal forests on the planet. In central Labrador on Canada’s north-east coast—a region where the growing season is no more than three months of the year—lies some seven million hectares of virtually untouched black spruce and balsam fir. In a province heavily dependent on its natural resources, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is taking a pro-active approach in its attempt to establish a vibrant forest industry in a region where aboriginal interests rank as a high priority. “We have to develop Labrador’s forest industry on a sustainable basis for the benefit of the people of Labrador, particularly the region’s aboriginal people,” said Ed Byrne, Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods for Newfoundland and Labrador. “Aboriginal issues play an integral part in the significant potential of this industry in Labrador with respect to market development and export opportunities. That’s why it is important to ensure the people of Labrador are involved in all aspects of the process to develop this industry in the region.”

Two of Labrador’s aboriginal groups have been actively involved in helping to shape the future of the forest industry in the region. The Innu Nation and the Labrador Métis Nation both have a history of objecting to the forestry development policies of previous government administrations. With pulp and paper companies and large-scale sawmill operations on the island of Newfoundland hungry for new fibre supplies, the two aboriginal groups have come forward to ensure their interests, and those of the region, are protected for future generations. Realizing the industry would never flourish in Labrador without aboriginal participation, the government signed a process agreement with the Innu Nation in January of 2001.

Todd Russell, president of the Labrador Métis Nation, has fought hard to ensure his people have a say in the direction the forest industry takes in the region. “We have such a great resource here and our people must be involved if we are to ensure it provides stability for the industry in this region,” he says.

This agreement provided for the full participation of the Labrador Innu in management planning and designing forest practices and prescriptions for ongoing operations. It also allowed for the exploration of models for co-management of the resource in central Labrador. After an extensive public consultation process, an ecosystem-based co-management plan between the Innu Nation and the government was registered in May of 2003. This is the first management plan of its kind in Labrador. “The plan basically ensures that 50 per cent of the commercial land base is set aside for protected areas on a landscape level,” said Innu Nation forestry planner Valerie Courtois. “There are also provisions for watershed and stand level protected areas.” The plan sets the total Annual Allowable Cut in central Labrador, known as District 19A, at 200,000 cubic metres. That’s half as much as the government had originally planned for the area, Courtois notes.

The agreement also has provisions for an initial allocation of 15,000 cubic metres of wood for the Innu Nation, out of about 50,000 cubic metres currently available. That allocation will increase once other areas in District 19A open for development, says Courtois. “An (Innu) entrepreneur is hoping to establish a sawmill operation with this allocation,” she says “He is currently harvesting the quota now, and he is hoping to be able to start operations next year.” Courtois says the five-year agreement, in which the government provides the Innu Nation with about $220,000 per year to implement, appears to be working well. “I don’t think the industry would be able to proceed without this agreement,” she states. “The forest is so important to the cultural survival of the Innu people, and it is important to ensure this industry is developed in a manner that does not jeopardize the region’s ecosystem and culture of the Innu.”

Todd Russell stands among a thick stand of black spruce, thinking out loud about what a future forest industry will mean for his people. As the president of the Labrador Métis Nation (LMN), Russell has fought hard to ensure his people have a say in the direction the industry takes in the region. “We have such a great resource here and our people must be involved if we are to ensure it provides stability for the industry in this region,” he says. “As an aboriginal people with strong ties to this land, if we are not involved, then it will be very difficult to move the sector forward.” The LMN also has a process agreement with the provincial government, but it didn’t come easy and it is far from being as concrete as the one signed with the Innu Nation. Fearing they would be cut out of the picture, and fed up with seeing barge-loads of raw wood being exported to the island of Newfoundland, members of the LMN staged a protest in the central Labrador community of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in August of 2002.

The action eventually resulted in an agreement with the government that allowed Métis participation in the management of the region’s forest resource, in addition to having a say in promoting secondary and value-added processing. While there is still plenty of work to be done before a long-term management agreement is in place, Russell says he’s confident that Labrador’s forest resource is on the right road to being protected. “This agreement has given us the capacity to deal with forest management matters from a Métis perspective,” he says. “It has allowed us the capacity to develop a plan that is sensitive to our needs, which will see the development of the industry in a sustainable manner. It has been beneficial to the LMN in terms of the overall objective of getting more of our people involved in the industry.” Russell says he’s encouraged by some “positive” changes in the industry in the past year. “More wood was processed this past year (in central Labrador) than in the previous year, which is something we are very pleased about,” he comments.

Russell says the industry would have an even brighter future in central Labrador if the Innu Nation and the LMN worked together. “If the two groups were at the same table together with the government, we would probably come up with a better forestry model,” he says. That’s unlikely to happen, however, since the Innu Nation has, in the past, publicly challenged the aboriginal status of the Labrador Métis. The agreement signed between the LMN and the government in the fall of 2002, which incorporates other forest districts in Labrador along the region’s south coast, was set to expire at the end of last year. A change in government administrations, however, resulted in the agreement being extended until March 31 of this year.

Russell says he is confident a new agreement will be reached, one that will be beneficial to aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike. “There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, particularly in the Port Hope Simpson area (southern Labrador) where there is also commercial activity involving a conflict with the Métis people,” he says. “If we move into a new agreement with the government, then I am confident we will be able to resolve that issue as well. “Progress can be made where there is aboriginal involvement,” adds Russell, “not only in the forestry sector, but in all sectors of the economy —resulting in benefits for the entire province.”

While he insists his government “inherited” the current process agreements with the LMN and the Innu Nation from the previous administration, Minister Byrne says he’s confident about the future of Labrador’s forest industry. “I think both agreements have been beneficial,” he says. “The Innu agreement is nationally recognized, and it is, I believe, a benefit to the people of Labrador.” Byrne says he’s hopeful a new agreement will be reached with the LMN. “As a government we are reviewing everything, but I am very supportive in continuing to maintain an agreement with the Métis.”

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