On May 23, The Telegram reported a tentative agreement had been reached between the provincial government and Active Energy to give the latter a 20-year lease covering all of forestry management districts 17 and 18 — totalling 1.2 million hectares of land — on the Northern Peninsula.
The goal of Active Energy is to manufacture wood pellets to replace coal at existing power plants.
It was reported this would create approximately 70 jobs in the area.
However, the agreement has generated different concerns from locals on the Northern Peninsula in recent weeks.
Main Brook Mayor Leander Pilgrim, who worked in the logging business on the Northern Peninsula for 65 years, says if clear cutting takes place it will create a whole host of problems for the local environment. He wants to see the public informed on these potential issues.
Pilgrim says everyone in the area is dependent on the trees in some form or another, such as for firewood or some less obvious ways. The trees clean the air and create moisture that keeps soil moist. Pilgrim believes this is why there are so few forest fires on the Northern Peninsula.
However, fewer trees would mean a drier soil in the summer, he says, which could spark fires. These could spread to the trees and cause forest fires.
“Where the forest fire starts is not always where the trees are,” he says. “It starts where it’s dried out and then it gets into the trees.”
The rivers are also a concern for him.
Pilgrim explains they can replant trees right away, but it takes time for the tree to grow.
“In 10 years, the tree doesn’t grow very high,” he said. “And it takes 80 years for it to grow to a saw log.”
This means you have a significant period of time where the land is collecting rainwater or water from the spring thaw whereas it would be collected by the trees before.
“Water goes all over the place where it wouldn’t be going if the trees were there,” Pilgrim said. “And that’s sucking out of the crevices of the rocks and everything like that, all this stuff that’s in the earth.”
He says this includes potentially harmful minerals and chemicals such as mercury. Pilgrim believes these could pollute the rivers – and, in turn, the trout and salmon, plus land animals such as rabbits and moose, as everything drinks the water.
“That’s a very sad situation,” he said.
The matter of land access is the main concern for someone like Justin Boyd, a primary outfitter and hunting guide for JB Outfitters based out of Main Brook.
He doesn’t mind a company using the forest to make wood pellets, but he has questions regarding whether hunters, recreational fishers and trappers will have access to the land they’ve always used.
“I don’t want to stop it, it means works,” Boyd said. “It’s jobs for the people here. But, I’d like to know what our rights are going to be if it’s a foreign company that comes in and what exactly got to go on for them to be able to ship and process their pellets.
“Are they (Active Energy) going to own the land for 20 years? Are we going to be allowed in on it to hunt or fish or have access to the land? I don’t know what the story is.”
In other places in Canada and the United States, according to Boyd, when private companies own the rights to the land, they often don’t allow access to roads and force members of the public to have a special permit to enter these areas. Until there is more information regarding the nature of the agreement, he fears the same thing may happen here.
Meanwhile, Pilgrim feels government needs to consult the public before making decisions he believes could potentially affect the local environment and the livelihoods of people on the Northern Peninsula.
“Before they make any changes, get the people involved, get the people’s opinion on what they think of the situation,” says Pilgrim. “That’s the most important thing, because the government… has been making decisions on our natural resources and giving it away to big, rich companies and the people have nothing to say about it. That’s not the way it should be.”
According to Pilgrim, once the public is informed and allowed to voice their opinion, they can make a decision on what needs to be done. If they decide they are okay with the agreement, whatever the potential repercussions, then he says it should go ahead.
“We’re the people who got to live with this,” Pilgrim said. “If it turns out a disaster or if it turns out good, certainly we should have something to say about our future.”
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources is currently assessing Active Energy Group’s proposal to undertake harvesting operations on the Northern Peninsula. Once this assessment is complete a determination will be made regarding scheduling public consultations related to AEG harvesting plans on the Northern Peninsula.
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources recently held several public consultation sessions on the Northern Peninsula to provide local residents with an opportunity to provide input into the Crown’s 2018-22 Five Year Operating Plan for Forest Management Zone 8. While these public consultation sessions focused on planned forest activity on Crown limits, local residents also had an opportunity to discuss potential future harvesting activity by Active Energy Group with forest managers.