Protecting the Saskatchewan forest


Protecting the Saskatchewan forest

Above the Prairies, half the province is covered by Boreal forest.

Dateline: Monday, May 15, 2022

by Joys Dancer

Weyerhaeuser has shut down all its mills in the Prince Albert Forest Management Area (PAFMA) and hundreds of mill workers and forest workers have been left high and dry. In the wake of this crisis, forest communities find little consolation in their surrounding forests and lakes, which have recently been decimated by Weyerhaeuser — creaming the cheap wood close to the mills. Already some people have uprooted and moved to work in the Alberta oil patch. And while this crisis is playing out, Weyerhaeuser is threatening to file lawsuits against the Province of Saskatchewan unless government officials give them concessions, the main one being continued control of the public forest in this area. The other option they are suggesting is that the Province "buy back" the Prince Albert Forest Management Area — which they received gratis in the sweet deal cut with the Devine government in 1986. People are somewhat shocked to hear that they may not yet be finished with Weyerhaeuser.

Local people want to know: Is our Northern Forest owned by Weyerhaeuser or by the people of Saskatchewan? This is the big question the province has to answer; not who will buy the mill, but how will people benefit from, protect and sustain their forest. In an ongoing Interview Project, a wide variety of local people who live and work in these forest communities put forward many ideas and visions for new ways to work with and take positive advantage of the big changes that are occurring in the forest industry. They want to see an end to the monopoly of forest management by big business interests. Instead, they see local people playing a primary role in land use decision-making, and major sustainable job creation through value-added businesses and caring for the forests they know and live in. The side benefits would be the strengthening of rural cultures and economies in the area, and effective protection of the land and the resources for future generations.

Although Weyerhaeuser has closed the mills, it is still making demands on local communities.

In terms of industrial forestry, there needs to be a move towards working with the sensitivities of local communities and our forest eco-systems. We want to engage with companies who operate in a more responsible and responsive way to our needs and look to Mistik Management and L&M Wood Products to provide some of the direction we need.

For more detailed information on this Interview Project see the Written Presentation given to the Premier, the Premier's Task Force on Forestry Development and the Forestry Secretariat on the Saskatchewan EcoNetwork Website at the site below. Look for the presentation under the Saskatchewan Treeplanters Association or contact Joys Dancer at the email address below.

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Although most people think of Saskatchewan as a land of prairies and wheat fields, more than half the province is covered by Boreal forest.

On the Canadian Shield, large-scale commercial forestry is just beginning. In the mixed wood region further south, much of the land is under Forest Management Licensing Agreements (FLMA), concessions granted to pulp and timber companies by the provincial government. The forest fringe, a mix of farmland and woodland, is an increasingly important supplier of pulpwood and timber.

Each of these forest regions faces challenges and threats.

In the mixed wood forests, the timber harvest has been increased under new Forest Management Licensing Agreements. The challenge is to ensure that commercial forestry is ecologically sustainable.

Under the Forest Resource Management Act, Saskatchewan is committed to integrated forest management. FLMA applicants must prepare a 20-year sustainable management plan and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). All Forest Management Licensing Agreements must be renewed every 10 years.

While industry and Saskatchewan Environment are satisfied that approved harvest levels are sustainable, both independent experts and conservation groups, such as CPAWS and Nature Saskatchewan, are critical of the new Forest Management Licensing Agreements.

Underfunding of the forest inventory process and lack of a comprehensive ecological assessment of resources make it difficult to access the full impact of the harvest. Doubts have been raised that harvest levels in the most heavily exploited parts of the commercial forest are truly sustainable.

Saskatchewan does not have a good record for regenerating forests after harvest. According to the 1998-1999 State of Canada's Forest Report, 66 percent of the forested land harvested since 1975 remains "not satisfactorily restocked". This compares with a national average of only 17 percent.

On the Canadian Shield, expansion of commercial forestry is in the planning stage. The challenge is to ensure that fragile ecosystems in which regeneration is slow will be protected.

Saskatchewan Environment is currently preparing land-use plans to guide commercial development on the Shield. Planning includes public involvement, and has been welcomed by both northern residents and environmentalists. But concerns have been raised about the process. Critics believe that the proposed land-use plans are too general. There are fears that local interests, including ecotourism and traditional ways of life, will be scarified to commercial forestry in one of the last true wildernesses of North America.

On the forest fringe, increasing demand for wood has spurred destructive harvesting of woodlots on private lands. Conservation groups fear that a crisis of deforestation is overtaking forest fringe woodlands. Land-use planning on the fringe has been delayed by lack of funding. The Farm Woodlot Association of Saskatchewan encourages sustainable woodlot management, but Saskatchewan has few resources to assist woodlot owners.


In the Prince Albert area, local activists have recently conducted an Interview Project, focusing on current forestry policies and practices, and the impacts and opportunities created by the Weyerhaeuser mill closures in Prince Albert and Big River in mid-April. We asked a wide range of people from several communities in the affected area about their involvement in forestry decision-making, the impacts of these decisions on their lives, their communities and the lands surrounding them; and their visions for truly sustainable economic development, including forestry, in their areas. We heard from mill workers, large-scale forest contractors, equipment operators, highway workers, local farmers, tourism operators, traditional land users, town councillors and administrators, First Nations, small business operators, and other concerned citizens.

There was a striking similarity of themes emerging from all these divergent interests regarding the problems in current forestry practices:

All fear a loss of mature trees in the provincial forests if forestry policy and practices continue as they are now;

All experienced a lack of meaningful input into decisions that affect their lives;

All expressed strong concern for the very destructive impacts on the land from current forestry practices, especially riparian harvesting, spring and summer harvesting, and all season roads;

Everyone spoke of the lack of monitoring and control of big industry;

Most felt that truly sustainable economic development can only happen with strong local involvement in primary decision-making on land use;

They felt that the main role of government should be to enforce laws and regulations, particularly with big industry; and

Everyone said that there is an unacceptable amount of wastage.
Clear themes also emerged from the visions people hold:

They want a more respectful, open and inclusive attitude from government officials, both politicians and civil servants;

The Annual Allowable/Required Cut needs to be revisited and REDUCED, based on inventories that are agreed upon by all who are concerned;

They want comprehensive Community Economic Development planning in their communities, and comprehensive Cost/Benefit Analyses on all projects and developments;

They want authentic and meaningful involvement of local people in ALL levels and types of primary planning and monitoring of activities in the forest;

Selective logging would be used wherever possible to minimize waste and impact on riparian areas;

They want stricter environmental guidelines and monitoring, particularly on summer logging and the impacts of roads on the land and wildlife;

They want a shift of focus to value-added and non-timber forest products and businesses;

The selection process for protected areas needs to be grounded in local knowledge and conservation science — rather than primarily on short-term economic interests — to ensure the preservation of biological diversity;

There needs to be a well-funded arm's-length Environmental Commissioners Office established to ensure accountability of resource use in the province.
Local people who have active connection with the land and their communities have crucial contributions to make in land use planning and practices. Their voices need to be heard and heeded. And they need to be at the table working out the terms of any new Forest Management Agreements and be signatories to any agreements affecting their communities.

Joys Dancer was Manager of the Interview Project and made presentations to government bodies on the report. She is a concerned citizen who lives near the Saskatchewan boreal forest, and who has been advocating for years for healthy forest communities, First Nations cultural rights and protection of ecosystem biodiversity.

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