Some La Ronge residents want to halt a proposed project harvesting nearby peat lands.
They’ve raised those concerns over Quebec business Lambert Peat Moss Inc.’s harvesting project on 2,619 hectares, which is slated to last about 80 years in four areas south of La Ronge. Preliminary work is set to begin next year followed by the start of harvesting in 2022.
Some residents are concerned the project will prevent traditional land uses like trapping and berry-picking while removing a carbon sink and creating conditions for increased risk of wildfires. On the other hand, Francois Quinty, an environmental consultant working with Lambert, said peat moss harvesting is a “soft industry” with a relatively limited environmental impact.
Preparing the sites would clear vegetation as Lambert builds bog and access roads and drainage works. That would lead to drying the peat, vacuum harvesting it and piling it for use before reclamation efforts, according to a September community information slide show.
La Ronge resident Kona Barreda has circulated a petition against the project.
“It’s bad for the environment. It’s bad for the animals. It’s going to destroy habitats,” Barreda said. She is concerned the project will increase wildfires in the area and affect local woodland caribou, who eat the lichen that grows in the area.
Eleanor Hegland, a Lac La Ronge Indian Band member, shares that concern. She said the areas include tree and plant life used in traditional medicines and are used for traplines. She is worried harvesting peat moss will affect continued land use and disrupt the local water system.
In public engagement documents, Lambert said the project sites fall in general caribou areas that connect higher importance habitats. It said traditional plant life will be cleared for the project, but that it will consult with knowledge keepers and elders over the issue.
The company has said gathering could occur when harvesting isn’t taking place, but some residents remain concerned.
A Facebook group called “For Peat’s Sake” has grown to about 500 members since last month. Miriam Körner, who administers the group, said she is worried over a lack of consultation on the project, noting technical issues meant residents had difficulty accessing a September information meeting.
“We didn’t understand the impact of this peat mining, because we thought they would come in, take some peat and then leave. But then we found out it’s an 80-year (project),” she said.
In a prepared statement, the Ministry of Environment said Lambert is conducting environmental studies and consultation. After that, it will receive a technical review and the project will be released for the public review and comment period.
Quinty said the project will bring jobs and economic activity for local businesses. Lambert’s public engagement documents estimate about 25 residents will be employed each harvest. Meanwhile, conducting studies will help understand and mitigate possible environmental impacts, he added.
“It’s normal that people be concerned when something is established (nearby).”