Some very exciting things are beginning to happen in the boreal forest in East Central Saskatchewan! After a lot of hard work, the Pasquia Porcupine Forest Management Area has achieved approval for a new Forest Management Plan. Normally, an FMP approval might not be big news. But this FMP wasn’t typical in that another process was being woven into the planning process, one that would endeavor to take additional steps to protect caribou and ensure a healthy forest ecosystem, while maintaining a healthy local forest sector for the region. I’ll attempt a brief explanation as to what has made this process so exciting.

Back in 2010, John Daisley from Weyerhaeuser and I sat down together for the first time to talk about some innovative ideas that were being rolled out across the country through a new framework called the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. This new agreement was designed to bring ‘peace to the forest’ by assembling regional working groups that would endeavor to develop recommendations to governments designed to complete a network of protected areas across the country and to protect at risk species in the forest, with a focus on caribou. These recommendations would also be designed in a way that provided the best opportunity for forest companies to continue to be economically viable, providing jobs and economic stability for the communities that relied on these industries.

A Saskatchewan Regional Working Group was assembled to work with me and John, including representatives from Tolko (Dave West) and the Prince Albert Model Forest (Mika Carriere) and additional representatives from CPAWS (Chris Miller) and Weyerhaeuser (Wendy Crosina). The group also included our Coordinator, Chanda Hunnie and our Facilitator, Alex Grzybowski. Experts from the science and modelling worlds were contracted to establish some starting points and to guide us along and the provincial government was kept up to speed while we exchanged ideas with them and looked for areas of common interest.

Most importantly, throughout the process, local First Nations and Metis communities were engaged. We met with the communities on numerous occasions, including activities like fishing, helicopter tours and boat tours while also using these opportunities to learn as much as we could about the land and why it is important to them. We also met officially with councils to ensure we remained on a path that worked for the communities. And finally, we contracted the Prince Albert Model Forest and Can North to spend time in the communities gathering as much traditional knowledge as possible and did this work in the local language of the communities.

I’m not going to get into all the details and results of our various studies and processes. Those are all available on the CBFA website should anyone be interested. There is also a link at the bottom of this story should you want to check out the recommendations we have made regarding caribou and the ideas we are taking forward to government regarding creating a protected area in the Suggi Lake/Mossy River/Sask River Delta area. These are all exciting developments for sure, and I encourage you to check them out.

But the accomplishment I’m most excited about and most proud of is how, as a group, we continued to stay committed to each other and to making this work. So often, new ideas roll into town, bringing with them the best science, the best processes and all the experts money can buy. But far too often, one very important ingredient is left out, which is the will to do something great…maybe even something that hasn’t been done before. I’m very proud of what our Regional Working Group was able to achieve. We agreed to step out of the box and happily found that by doing so, it became easier for us to find common goals with the First Nations and Metis communities, with the Province and with each other. We left corporate positions at the door and put the needs of the ecosystem and the local communities at the forefront, and in the end landed in a place that met the twin pillars of ecological integrity and economic viability that we were hoping to achieve.

I won’t say much more, because right now it’s time to enjoy our achievements. But not for too long. The real work starts now as we implement these new ideas on the landscape and continue to work with local communities to begin to see the real change that we sincerely hope will come out of all of our collective hard work to date.

Congratulations to everyone for their hard work and enjoy the moment!

Recommendations for the Pasquia Porcupine Forest Management Area

Map – East Central Saskatchewan Caribou and Protected Areas Plan English, Cree

Photos – Saskatchewan River Delta

CBFA Caribou Conservation Plan – A Career Highlight

Brochure – Sustaining the Boreal in Eastern Saskatchewan – English Cree

A Plan Comes Together – Fraser Los, Canadian Geographic