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Prospect of New Caribou Plan a Major Concern in Rural Quebec

Some environmentalist groups suggest that forestry activities in Quebec, Canada, should be considerably reduced—a measure that would threaten thousands of jobs in this industry, according to a new short documentary produced by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) in the North Shore region. In November 2015, the VP of the MEI, Jasmin Guénette, met with forest engineers, mill workers, and others on the ground in Baie-Comeau to give a voice to those who make their living from the forest. These stakeholders insist on the importance of the forest for local communities. They express their fears, especially faced with the prospect of a new boreal caribou protection plan, but they also testify to the efforts made to promote the peaceful coexistence of the caribou and forestry activities.

"Since sawmills, paper mills, and other processing plants are supplied by Quebec's forests, a draconian reduction in the forest harvest would affect the entire forestry sector. It's the whole regional economy and hundreds of families that would pay the price," Guénette explained.

For the province as a whole, a new, even more restrictive caribou plan, which would impose new restrictions on logging, could lead to losses of 3,000 jobs and $367 million of economic activity. In a recent Economic Note, the MEI calculated that each caribou potentially saved in Quebec would entail the loss of 31 jobs and $3.8 million of economic activity.

It's a sacrifice that seems unreasonable to many for the uncertain preservation of 96 caribou per year. "Let's just say that if I had to choose between two animals, it seems to me that the caribou would come second," says a worker at the Outardes sawmill. "Because we workers have families, and I think that we should be taken into consideration."

On the North Shore, the forestry sector accounts for 12% of total employment. In Abitibi Temiscamingue, it represents 7% of all jobs. In the Gaspé Peninsula, it's 9%, and in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, 10%. The economic activities connected to the forest are essential for the development of these regions and the maintenance of well-paying jobs, MEI emphasizes.

The video shows, with the help of spectacular bird's eye views of the Quebec forest, that efforts have already been made to protect the caribou's habitat, in the North Shore region and elsewhere. Among other things, these measures have restricted forestry companies' access to the public forest and created specific protected areas for the caribou, MEI points out.

In spite of this, certain environmentalist groups keep asking for more. "As mentioned by a forest engineer I interviewed for this short documentary, environmentalists have to stop saying no to everything. Regions also need economic activity to survive. People can't just stay home and wait," Guénette said.

Conceived and produced by the MEI, the short documentary, titled "Caribou Conservation and the Future of Quebec's Forestry Regions," can be viewed on the MEI website.

The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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