As pressure rises to conserve forests, Quebec’s relationship with the timber sector is being scrutinized.

Quebec's relationship
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The Péribonka River cuts through a valley in Quebec that is home to ancient yellow birch, woodland caribou, and bald eagles as it flows from the Otish Mountains south to Lac-Saint-Jean. For years, the valley has been severely logged. Until the mid-1990s, the river was so choked with wood that canoeing and kayaking were out of the question.

However, for the past decade, local activists and politicians have tried in vain to persuade the Quebec government to conserve an 80-kilometer tract of woodland along the river. They sold eco-tourism and biodiversity initiatives, emphasizing the harm that logging presented to the caribou, an endangered species in Quebec. Nothing could persuade government authorities.

In December, the government announced the protection of 34 additional sites in the province in order to satisfy a United Nations treaty requirement that Quebec set aside 17% of its land for development by the end of 2020.

However, supporters of the Péribonka River valley proposal were once again disappointed. Instead, the Forest Ministry this month gave permission to two firms to log inside the 80-kilometer area that campaigners had hoped to safeguard. By the end of August, the businesses will have hauled enough timber away to serve over a dozen lumber factories.

“Our elected authorities are just turning over our woods to the timber sector,” Jean Tremblay, who established the citizen-led conservation organization Comité de Sauvegarde de la rivière Péribonka, explained. The Péribonka River valley is one of the hundreds of sites that environmental organizations requested the Quebec government include in the 17% but were eventually denied.

According to La Presse, key officials in the Forest Ministry later resisted conserving forests in regions sought after by the timber sector. The discoveries have fueled rising skepticism about the ministry’s readiness to safeguard the province’s woods. According to scientists, environmental groups, and Indigenous communities, the ministry appears to be more concerned with protecting industrial profits than with protecting the forests themselves.