Cree Nation’s leadership in conservation planning is set to inspire Québec to act and reach their target

With the surge of epic floods now recurring repeatedly in Southern Québec, Canada, we are hearing strong please from a few politicians for the protection of biodiversity and wetlands.

The Canadian province of Québec is now trying to work toward rapidly reaching their target of protecting 17% of terrestrial land by 2020, starting with identifying candidate territories. Currently less than 11% of Québec is protected.

One such candidate area is at the government’s fingertips: the Broadback Forest.

Set in the heart of Cree territory, “Mishigamish” as called by the Cree First Nation, has been slated for protection for more then a decade. And there is truly only one last piece missing – legislation – to protect this forest.

Here are three reasons why the Broadback should be on the top of the protection list:

  • There is consensus among all stakeholders to protect Mishigamish, which would add the missing piece that would connect two existing protected areas. Even logging companies have been abiding by an informal logging moratorium for close to ten years in this area.
  • Global forest product customers are keeping track of progress on the issue. Recently, more than 20 Canadian and international companies and producers, representing 76 billion USD in annual revenue have communicated to the Québec government their support for finalization of Broadback protection.
  • The scientific community recommends conservation of this territory ‘’to reinforce the existing protected areas network”. Protection of this territory would ensure connectivity between the area in the East (Lac Evans) and West (Parc Patrimonial Cri d’Assinika). This is crucial for biodiversity and endangered species such as the woodland caribou.

However, even as all these pieces align, threat looms. The area’s forest management plan for 2018-2023 includes plans to log in and near Mishigamish, as early as spring 2019, according to local sources. Any logging in this area would hinder both the Waswanipi Cree Nation’s need and desire to protect the last 10% of intact forests left on their traditional lands, as well as the recovery of woodland caribou in Mishigamish.

To add to the urgent need for protection, the very recent report from the International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that: “nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide.” Québec has an important role to play in this context, considering that 560 000 kmof Boreal Forest are located in the province. The Boreal Forest is recognized globally as a major carbon storehouse and massive fresh water reservoir. Stewardship of this climate-mitigation resource is a huge responsibility and the Cree Nation Government are prepared to lead these stewardship efforts and are looking for partnership and support from the provincial government.

For this reason, the Québec Government should take a very close look at the recent conservation plan published by the Cree Nation Government. In it, they have put forward a vision to conserve 30% of their territory for protection from industrial development.

Their land—Eeyou Istchee—is home to over 18,000 people, in addition to all the feathered and furry residents of the forest. This traditional territory covers over 400 000 km2, the equivalent of two-thirds the size of France. Eleven Cree communities occupy this land, sustain their cultural heritage and practice the Cree way of life on this land. For the Cree, preserving their territory and creating a network of conservation areas not only means safeguarding biodiversity, it is also key to conserve wildlife populations in order to enhance food security for present and future generations.

The bold leadership demonstrated by the Cree Nation in their vision and efforts to conserve the Cree way of life, while drawing from the unsurpassed collective traditional and cultural knowledge of the Cree for their land, is a world-class inspiration and example to follow.

The additional 80 000 km2of Eeyou Istcheeand Broadback protected area would bring the percentage of the Québec’s protected areas network to 14.8%, a significant leap ahead from the current 10.03%. It would also leave space – exactly 36 674 km2of it – for Government to identify other candidate areas further south to reach their 2020 target in the short term. There is a clear and building consensus with the scientific community, that Nature Needs Half of the planet protected which is much more than the Québec Government 2020 targets. There is of course, the opportunity for the Government of Québec to surpass the 17% goal that it is committed to meet – and in doing so, set a benchmark for other jurisdictions across Canada and globally.

The mandate to meet our international commitments to protect biodiversity is an essential one and a once in a lifetime opportunity. We do hope that Québec’s Premier Legault will seize the momentum and protect the missing piece of the Broadback and work with the Cree Nation Government to realize their inspiring vision for protection of at least 30% of Eeyou Istchee.