Supporting a community’s fight to stop clearcutting in eastern Newfoundland

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A community in Newfoundland is fighting to protect areas in and around their town from the provincial government’s plan to clearcut local forests. After having their concerns rebuffed by the province for years, concerned citizens say they’ve been left with no choice but to turn to the courts for relief.

In early 2022, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change released the province’s Five-Year Forestry Operating Plan for Crown Zone 2 from environmental assessment under the province’s Environmental Protection Act. The Plan outlines the province’s intentions to allow clearcutting in an ecologically sensitive area of approximately 11 square kilometres in the Southwest River Valley, as well as areas in and around the Town of Port Blandford.

Members of the public first raised concerns in response to the 2017 Forestry Plan for the same area. Despite years of sustained public opposition to clearcutting, the 2022 Forestry Plan is nearly identical to the 2017 Plan, and actually permits more cutting, extending into increasingly sensitive areas in the Southwest River Valley.

The fight to protect the community’s forests has been led by a local grassroots group called Citizens Against Clearcutting (CAC). Among their concerns, CAC says clearcutting would negatively impact the economy by jeopardizing the thriving eco-tourism industry in the area, decreasing residents’ quality of life, and hurting local ecosystems and wildlife.

The province’s plan doesn’t include a buffer around every wetland, stream, or larger waterway in the area, threatening water quality throughout the entire downstream watershed. Clearcutting would also destroy sensitive wildlife habitat in the Southwest River Valley that is home to many at-risk species such as caribou, lynx, pine martin, and osprey. The plan would also lead to the destruction of habitat along a salmon river; Atlantic salmon play an important role for those that live along the coasts of Newfoundland and are central to the cultures, diets, and economies of many Indigenous Peoples. Deforestation will negatively impact the area's major industry, eco-tourism, which will have devastating economic effects on local communities.

In early March 2022, CAC and the Town of Port Blandford, represented by Ecojustice, submitted an appeal to the Minister arguing he was legally required to order an environmental impact statement for the Plan due to significant public concern on the issue. The Minister dismissed this appeal. Now, CAC has brought their fight to the court to have their voice heard and hold their government accountable for protecting the forests in and around the community of Port Blandford.

For years, Citizens Against Clearcutting (CAC) has been fighting the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s plan to clearcut large swaths of Crown land in eastern Newfoundland, including areas in and around the Town of Port Blandford and adjacent to Terra Nova National Park. Among other things, their efforts have included well-attended public meetings, petitions tabled in the House of Assembly, numerous meetings with government officials, and extensive media and social media engagement. To date, their concerns have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Province, leaving them no choice but to turn to the courts for relief.

Earlier this year, the Minister dismissed an appeal submitted by Ecojustice on behalf of CAC and the Town of Port Blandford, saying he was not required to consider any expression of public concern that was made outside the legislated environmental assessment process nor any concerns about clearcutting raised before the 2022 Plan was registered.

Port Blandford attempted to change its land-use rules to make sure the town council would have a say in approving forestry operations before they begin, but these efforts were unsuccessful because provincial law says changes to municipal bylaws must be approved by the Province.

Ecojustice is happy to be supporting CAC in this next chapter of their fight. If successful, this case will strengthen and uphold the ability of the public to hold the provincial government accountable for properly assessing industrial projects that impact local communities and the environment.

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