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Differing views of forestry – a call for innovative management

Extracted from the paper “Community-company partnerships and sustainable forest management: co-existence of Atikamekw and industrial ways of managing the forest”, by Stephen Wyatt (Université Laval, Quebec, Canada), presented at the XII World Forestry Congress.

Partnerships between communities and the forest industry can offer advantages for both, but the expectations and the objectives of the partners are often different. Each may have its own way of viewing and understanding the forest landscape, and each may have developed its own systems for managing the utilization of forest resources.

An example comes from Wemotaci, an indigenous community of about 1 200 people in central Quebec, Canada, surrounded by forests and located over 100 km from the closest town. The forests are the traditional lands of the Atikamekw, who led a semi-nomadic life based on hunting and trapping until the early part of the twentieth century. Since the 1700s the Atikamekw have adapted their lifestyle to outside influences such as the fur trade, missionaries, a railway, hydro-electric development and the forest industry. In 1986 the Atikamekw established a forestry company to undertake contract work for larger forest industry companies and in 2000 entered a partnership to build a sawmill in their community. Forestry continues to be predominant in the regional economy.

Terms from the Atikamekw language, which is still in everyday use at Wemotaci, reveal the Atikamekw view of living in forests. Aski denotes “Mother Earth”, including all components of the biosphere (living, non-living and human). The forest or the territory is notcimik, again including the whole forest ecosystem, but also signifying “the place that I come from”. Tipahiskan is a system of management incorporating land divisions, knowledge and mechanisms for consultation and control. Nehirowisw denotes autonomy; it is used to describe either a person who has the knowledge and skills necessary to live on notcimik or the Atikamekw nation being responsible for itself. These are characteristics of the current Atikamekw use of the territory. The Atikamekw accept timber harvesting as a way of using notcimik and of being nehirowisiw . However, they expect that it be done in ways that are respectful of aski (such as maintaining the diversity of the forest ecosystem) and of tipahiskan. The Atikamekw also expect their role and their traditions to be recognized in forest management.

Industry’s view of forestry is based on the scientific management of the forest, principally to provide a sustainable supply of wood fibre. In Quebec, resource planning is sector-based and forestry planning is distinct from planning for management of fauna, water or recreation. The forestry companies in the Wemotaci area use state-of-the art technology in forest inventory, stand modelling, mapping and planning to optimize the efficiency of their harvesting and silvicultural operations. They operate in a competitive economic environment that emphasizes optimizing production while minimizing operating costs, and they need to harvest the full volume of timber allocated to them in accordance with government calculations of maximum sustainable yield. Planning for the protection of other values, including Atikamekw practices, is generally treated as a constraint to commercial exploitation of the forest.

Through their partnerships, the Atikamekw and the forest industry are trying to find a middle ground. Forestry companies are assisting Atikamekw participation in the industry, providing employment and economic benefits, while ensuring continued access to timber. New consultation processes enable the inclusion of Atikamekw concerns and traditional knowledge in forest planning, but stop short of providing a role in management decision-making. This experience shows some of the benefits of partnerships, but also illustrates the differences that occur in cross-cultural partnerships. If such partnerships are to lead to sustainable forestry, then it will be necessary to develop innovative approaches to management that can respond simultaneously to different ways of understanding forests.

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