Crying wolf won’t help the caribou

There once was a young shepherd boy who repeatedly tricked villagers into thinking a wolf was attacking his flock. When the wolf did actually show up, nobody came to the boy’s rescue thinking it was a false alarm. And we all know what happens at the end of the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' fable.

Similarly, some advocacy groups exaggerate and distort issues over and over in order to convince Canadians of the need for “action” and “change.” Each time their claims are proven false, they lose credibility. Eventually, it harms their capacity for bringing about positive policy changes regarding the real, legitimate problems that these advocacy groups often raise.

Some prominent environmental groups, although far from being the only ones, are particularly guilty of this type of behaviour. For instance, in past years, Greenpeace Canada has tried to paint a very grim picture of Canada’s forestry industry. As late as 2007, they were still arguing that “large intact stretches of forest are quickly disappearing at the hands of a small number of logging companies.”

After these claims were proven false, Greenpeace’s Quebec director was forced to change his tune and claimed last October that “nobody is saying that the boreal forest will disappear.”

Having been disproved by hard facts, these environmental militants have created yet another myth to push their anti-development agenda forward: that is, the woodland caribou is at risk of becoming extinct as a result of the logging industry’s destruction of its habitat. Based on very limited and questionable data, this prophecy nevertheless became a powerful symbol of environmental degradation.

They’ve been “crying caribou” as often as they can, and this repetition has yielded impressive results. According to a 2011 Léger poll, although 89 % of Quebecers said they were not well aware of forestry industry issues of Northern Quebec, 86 % supported a moratorium on the construction of forestry roads in order to protect the endangered caribou.

Fortunately, once again, reality has triumphed and Canadians are beginning to realize this. Indeed, according to the most recent inventory of the woodland caribou conducted by the Government of Quebec (made public last month), the caribou population has actually been thriving since 1999. The study, focused on the Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean region where the logging industry is most concentrated, highlights that the caribou population has nearly doubled on a territory where 70 % of its habitat was disrupted by logging activities. It seems that development and environment can peacefully coexist after all.

The silence of Greenpeace Canada is perplexing. We would expect them to rejoice at such excellent environmental news. However, if they officially recognize that our forests aren’t disappearing and the woodland caribou population is not dwindling, very few valid reasons remain for them to be so vehemently opposed to the logging industry in general and to Resolute Forest Products in particular.

As highlighted in a short documentary produced by my organization, logging industry workers not only care deeply about the welfare of the forest but also stimulate the economy of Quebec’s remote regions. If additional restrictions and regulations are imposed on the logging industry over and above the very strict ones already in place, many jobs could be at risk.

Perhaps it is the workers who need protection the most against all these misguided or exaggerated lobbying campaigns that jeopardize their livelihood.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this column are his own. * This column appears in Sun Media newspapers, published both in several of Canada's key urban markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and London) and in several community dailies.

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