Waswanipi’s last paradise: Crees and Greenpeace fight for park in Broadback Valley

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Broadback_3603Crees and environmentalists are teaming up to force a vital conservation issue onto the agenda of the provincial election campaign: protection of a key part of the Broadback Valley in a new provincial park.

During a snowmobile journey through the region with journalists March 10 to 14, representatives of Waswanipi Cree First Nation and Greenpeace made the case for protection of the last untouched region of Waswanipi territory.

“This is the last intact forest that we have,” said Waswanipi Chief Paul Gull. “We have been trying to get governments to commit to preserving this area for 20 years. This election campaign is the time for candidates of all parties to go on the record over this issue.”

More than 90% of Waswanipi territory has already been affected by resource extraction activities. The Broadback region hosts the community’s remaining four traplines, Gull added.

“We’re trying to look at the future, so that we can tell our youth that we protected our last traplines,” he said. “This is the last paradise in Waswanipi. The water there is very clear. It holds the last breeding ground for speckled trout, the only one we have of that size in the region. We need to keep it as natural as possible.”

Timing is of the essence, Gull added. Since the effort to push for a park began, mining companies have engaged in a frenzy of claims in the region, not necessarily because they expect to establish mines, but to obtain compensation for giving up their claims.

Waswanipi, with its important logging interests, also is making an economic sacrifice. “But the economy can work through preservation as well,” noted Gull. “There will be increased tourism and a need for conservation officers for the park.”

Greenpeace Quebec spokesperson Nicola Mainville said the area is a prime example of one of the last intact forests in Quebec. “It’s a hot spot in terms of conservation potential,” Mainville said.

Greenpeace published a report on the region in 2009 using satellite imagery to compare 12 key conservation values. The valley scored very high on important criteria, including the density of carbon in the soil and for fauna.

The valley is an important home for three caribou herds. A joint Cree-Ministry of Natural Resources study two years ago revealed the fragile state of caribou in the region and concluded that more roads and resource extraction would drastically decrease their chances of survival.

“This is really a story about the Cree way of life and how it is threatened by advancing logging activities on their land,” Mainville observed. “That’s why we are inviting people to visit. We want to show them the beauty of the land, the traditional Cree way of life and the connection between the two.”

In 2010, logging companies agreed to moratorium on logging in a 13,000 square kilometre parcel of the valley while the provincial government studied the issue. Now, Mainville emphasized, it is time for government to act before it is too late.

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