Alberta Forestry Disaster

Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, AB
FAX: 403-629-3939

Mailing address:
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, AB T6J 1A4
FAX: 403-437-0719

May 6, 1991

Enclosed for your information are copies of four newspaper articles and an editorial regarding a recently leaked internal report prepared by the Alberta Provincial Forestry Service on the state of the forest in Alberta. The conclusion of the report that the forests in Alberta are in serious trouble is supported by both an earlier Government-commissioned panel headed by a University of Alberta Forestry professor and by representatives of the forestry industry in a letter to Alberta Forestry Minister LeRoy Fjordbotten.

Mr. Fjordbotten has predictably responded in typical Alfred E. Neuman fashion. He assures people that he's "confident" there's no problem. He says, "I can't stand up as a minister and say I'm confident if I'm not."

Unfortunately Government ministers often say things which are both demonstrably untrue and which they know to be untrue. In addition Mr. Fjordbotten's expression of confidence that he isn't in effect mishandling his portfolio is more than a little self-serving.

Attachment #1: re-printed without permission from The Edmonton Journal, Tuesday, April 16, 1991


Report leaked to NDP

Brian Laghi

Journal Staff Writer


Alberta forests face huge environmental damage if more isn't done to protect and replant millions of trees used in the pulp industry, an internal report warns.

The report, leaked to and released by Alberta's New Democrats, suggests that over-harvesting could land the forestry department in "violation of the public trust", prompting ND environment critic John McInnis to call for the resignation of Forestry Minister LeRoy Fjordbotten.

The forestry department will have to break its own reforestation regulations if it doesn't get an extra $13 million in 1991 and 1992 to deal with the explosion in the province's forestry sector, says the report.

"Insufficient staffing will prevent the division from protecting forests from large scale environmental damage," said the report.

"The AFS (Alberta Forestry Service) will be unable to monitor and enforce the environmental standards promised by the government of Alberta to its citizens."

The document was prepared by department officials in an effort to pry more money out of the 1991 budget, delivered two weeks ago by Treasurer Dick Johnston. However, spending on forestry management was virtually frozen at $93 million and the government eliminated the department's Forest Research Division.

McInnis warned that without satisfactory reforestation, top soil in the harvested areas will blow away and adequate replanting can never occur.

"I think this is the strongest warning that a public official can possibly give to a minister," said McInnis.

"The government went ahead and made decisions anyway, budget decisions that ignored the warning and that's why I think LeRoy Fjordbotten has no right to be minister any longer. He knows he's in breach of public trust."

The report says the recent massive increase in forestry activities will require the replanting of some 103.5 million seedlings in 1992-1993. Current nursery facilities are only able to produce 24.5 million seedlings annually, said the report.

The document also stated the AFS budget in 1988-1989 was $24 million below what it received in 1981.

The AFS also lost eight percent of its workers between 1982 and 1989. The new forestry boom will force the department to monitor 18.9-million hectares between 1990-1998, up from 3.1-million hectares in 1986. Necessary inspections will also be harmed, said the report.

But Fjordbotten said he believes his staff is large enough to handle the replanting and monitoring needed.

Fjordbotten noted that the department officials who prepared the brief used the 1982 budget year as a benchmark, which was "a very rich year for all government departments."

"I want to make sure that with the expansion of the forest industry that there would be more than adequate staff to make sure we could monitor and fulfill our commitments," Fjordbotten said. "I'm satisfied that we can do that."

Fjordbotten said all bureaucrats want to see extra staff and he doesn't blame them. But forestry had to take some of the hit to balance the provincial budget.

Fjordbotten also said the industry has an obligation to contribute to replanting.

Attachment #2: re-printed without permission from The Edmonton Sun, Tuesday, April 16, 1991


Large-scale damage feared in leaked Alberta report

by Gord Bannerman

Staff Writer

Alberta forests face large-scale environmental damage unless more money is pumped into the province's forestry department to protect the woods.

That's the dire prediction in a confidential departmental report to Forestry Minister LeRoy Fjordbotten leaked to the New Democrats and released yesterday.

"Without sufficient staff, the Alberta Forestry Service will be unable to monitor and enforce the environmental standards promised by the government of Alberta to its citizens," warns the 1990 report prepared by provincial forestry staff at the request of senior department managers.

"Insufficient staffing will prevent the division from protecting forests from large-scale environmental damage," the report states.

The concerns are contained in the 52-page document titled "Impact of Forestry Industry Development on the Alberta Forest Service", which was obtained by the New Democrats and tabled in the legislature yesterday.

It states the department needs more money to hire additional staff to monitor all aspects of the forest industry, including reforestation and the logging impact on fish and wildlife. Extra workers are also needed to ensure companies don't chop down more trees than the government contracts allow.

It's the second study to point out problems in Fjordbotten's department.

A government-commissioned panel, headed by University of Alberta professor Bruce Dancik, concluded last August the province had committed "less than token funding for forestry research" while subsidizing rapid development of the pulp and paper industry.

Yesterday's leaked report was prepared before last year's provincial budget in which the government was pressing to approve forestry projects, including Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries' $1.5 billion pulp mill near Athabasca.

ND environment critic John McInnis said it's a condemnation of Fjordbotten, who McInnis said should resign,

Fjordbotten said he has no intention of stepping down.

He said the government is in a "period of restraint" but not at the expense of protecting the environment from forestry projects.

And Fjordbotten said he's reorganized his department to deal with the growing forestry sector by putting more people in district offices and shifting responsibilities to companies to perform research and studies done by government in the past.

He said the report was prepared when the department was pushing for more staff in the 1990-91 budget.

He doesn't fault staff for that but said, "frankly, we are reducing the number of civil servants in this province."

The report called for a budget increase of $12.6 million last year, $13.6 million this year and $13.9 million next year.

Instead, Fjordbotten's budget was cut by $1.4 million last year but was bumped by $1.8 million for this year.

Since 1981 the forestry staff has shrunk to 1,392 from 1,443.

Attachment #3: re-printed without permission from The Edmonton Journal, Wednesday, April 17, 1991


Brian Laghi

Journal Staff Writer


Animals face elimination, forest fires could increase and rivers become clogged if the provincial government ignores an internal report calling for better forest protection, says a U of A forestry expert.

"They could barely keep up with the demands before," forest sciences chairman Bruce Dancik said Tuesday, in response to a report calling for more money to patrol Alberta's exploding timber harvest.

"In the longer run, we could see things like the fibre resource being hurt and we could see the loss of certain species from the province."

Dancik, who also chaired a government-appointed committee which recommended hiring another 150 department employees, said getting more personnel is critical if the government wants to monitor environmentally sensitive activities like road building and replanting.

Too much silt from roads, for example, could harm fish spawning in local rivers. Inadequate numbers of employees could force the department to skimp on fire monitoring, he said.

The government doesn't even have an inventory of provincial wildlife, said Dancik. "Will a particular species get clobbered? We don't really know."

Dancik said problems will be more subtle and probably occur over a lengthy period of time, unlike in B.C., which has experienced more serious problems due to the age of the industry.

An Edmonton environmental group called on Forestry Minister LeRoy Fjordbotten to resign, saying he is not heeding the warnings of his own department.

"This minister is not responding and there's no clear reason as to why not," said Lorraine Vetsch, co-chairman of Edmonton's Friends of the North.

"He's not capable of handling the portfolio."

The report suggested the department requires another $13 million in 1991 to adequately manage forests and that it has less money now than it did 10 years ago, when the forestry sector was a fraction of its current size.

Vetsch said Fjordbotten should either quit or his responsibilities for maintaining the province's forests should be given to the environment department.

"When reforestation fails, who is responsible -- forestry or environment?"

But Fjordbotten said new reforestation standards put in place last month will force companies to increase their role in planting.

"They're not overly happy with it, but it will guarantee a good sound forest in the future for our children."

Judith Hanebury of Alberta's Sierra Club said the report will help the group in its lawsuit against the province, alleging reforestation by Daishowa near Peace River is inadequate.

Attachment #4: re-printed without permission from The Edmonton Sun, Wednesday, April 17, 1991


Band report blamed on employees' agenda

By Gord Bannerman

Staff Writer

Forestry Minister LeRoy Fjordbotten yesterday discounted a report from his staff warning that Alberta forests are in danger.

He said it was meant to be confidential and he's upset it got into the press in the first place.

"The report is only a report done by staff making a pitch for more staff," Fjordbotten said. "So I think it's got to be read in that context."

Large-Scale damage

The 52-page internal document, tabled in the legislature Monday by the New Democrats, warned that Alberta forests face "large-scale environmental damage" unless more money is injected into the province's forestry department.

It said the department needs more staff to police the province's burgeoning forest industry, such as pulp mills.

The document -- labelled "Impact of Forest Industry Development on the Alberta Forest Service" -- was requested by senior forestry managers and done by staff before the 1990-91 budget.

Fjordbotten said the report was confidential and its strong language was a "poor choice of words". He said he won't discipline anyone because the report was leaked.

Fjordbotten's assistant deputy minister in charge of the Alberta forest service, Kenneth Higginbotham, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

Fjordbotten said he's confident Alberta's forests aren't on the verge of a crisis. "I can't stand up as a minister and say I'm confident if I'm not."

His assurances didn't stop ND environment critic John McInnis and Edmonton Friends of the North co-chairman Lorraine Vetsch from demanding the minister quit.

In the legislature, McInnis accused Fjordbotten of "attempting to characterize the most serious possible warning from the forest service as a case of greedy public servants."

Findings echo study

The department's findings echoed those in a study prepared by a government-commissioned panel headed by University of Alberta professor Bruce Dancik.

Dancik's report in August concluded Alberta had committed "less than token funding for forestry research" while subsidizing rapid pulp and paper industry development.

Fjordbotten's forest resource budget was slashed by $1.4 million last year but was increased by $1.8 million for this year. Staff has shrunk by 61 to 1,392.

Attachment #5: re-printed without permission from The Edmonton Journal, Wednesday, April 17, 1991



It would be comforting to accept Forestry Minister LeRoy Fjordbotten's claim that the Alberta government can ensure the protection and reforestation of the vast tracts of forest leased out in recent years for cutting. It would be comforting, but unwise.

There are genuine worries across Canada about the long-term effects of heavy forest cutting. Reforestation has not worked as well as was promised by industry and government, particularly in clear-cut areas. There has been environmental damage to water and soil, and to forest wildlife. Forests have not come back as quickly or as completely as was widely promised.

Alberta, just entering into forest-cutting on a huge scale, should be able to benefit from the experience in provinces where forest operations have gone on for decades. Unfortunately, the government seems unwilling to take the actions needed to avoid the problems of those provinces.

A report prepared internally by the Forestry Department, and obtained by opposition New Democrats, warns of serious environmental damage if more resources aren't committed to protection and replanting of Alberta's northern forests. The report says the department will have to break its own regulations for reforestation if it doesn't get additional money. In the recent provincial budget, it didn't get the money.

The Forestry Department certainly has its own axe to grind, particularly in a report that was intended to persuade the government to give it more money in the budget. It is not uncommon for bureaucrats to warn of dire consequences if they don't get the funding they seek at budget time. According to Fjordbotten, that is all his department was doing, and he can't blame it for that.

His assurances would inspire more confidence, though, if the government wasn't getting the same warnings from other quarters. Recently the Alberta Forest Products Association sent a letter to Fjordbotten warning that Alberta will see shrinking forests if the government doesn't live up to its own commitments for reforestation and forest protection. Liberal environment critic Grant Mitchell, who obtained a copy of the letter, estimated from existing studies that it will cost the government up to $200 million to catch up with a current backlog in reforesting areas that have been cut.

Fjordbotten, defending a virtual freeze on spending on forestry by his department, says every part of government has to do its part to reduce costs. Even with the spending freeze, he says he is confident the government can monitor and protect the forest lands now dedicated to harvesting.

The report from his own department tells another story. According to it, the department needed another $13 million in 1991 and 1992 alone to pay for the reforesting of cut areas. The report also says the department is monitoring six times as many hectares under harvest now, compared to 1986, and with fewer workers. These are not inspiring statistics.

The forest industry is one of the cornerstones of Premier Don Getty's plans for bringing prosperity to northern Alberta, and overall stability to the provincial economy. It has the potential of adding large amounts to government revenues and to general economic activity. Its attraction is that the forests are renewable -- if the replanting is properly provided for. It is on that basis alone that Albertans would support the leasing of the northern forests for harvest.

In the circumstances, the government can't afford to be cavalier or short-sighted. If restraint forces it to limit its own reforesting efforts, it should consider whether the industry (which benefits directly and greatly) should be paying the entire amount to replace the trees it cuts. The government might restrict its scope to enforcement, ensuring that it has the manpower and resources to police the forests it has turned over to industry. The government should not, however, use the excuse of restraint to cover a lack of commitment to the forests it is expected, and required, to protect.