FREDERICTON – A New Brunswick judge rejected a bid Friday by aboriginal leaders to block an increase in the amount of softwood lumber that can be harvested from Crown lands in the province.
The Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs of New Brunswick asked the Court of Queen’s Bench to impose an injunction that would have prevented the provincial government from signing final agreements with forestry companies.
The chiefs expressed disappointment over the judge’s decision and said in a statement they are considering further legal action, including the possibility of an appeal.
The agreements are part of the province’s 10-year forestry plan, which allows companies to cut 660,000 more cubic metres of softwood annually, an increase of about 20 per cent.
The chiefs argued that the province failed to adequately consult First Nations communities about the plan.
In denying their request, Judge Judy Clendening said the chiefs might have an argument to make.
“I find that perhaps the applicants may have a triable issue with regard to consultation and accommodation about the terms of the forest management strategy,” she said.
The group also argued the increase in the amount of wood that can be cut will cause irreversible harm to the environment and plant and animal species that the First Nations rely on.
But Clendening said the facts have not been fleshed out to the extent that the issue of irreparable harm can be determined.
“Balancing the rights of all parties at this stage is not possible on the evidence before the court, hence, the status quo will be maintained,” Clendening said.
None of the lawyers for the forestry companies or the First Nations groups would comment outside the court.
Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief of the Elsipogtog First Nation, said efforts to block the deals with the large forestry companies needs to continue.
“We cannot give up because what they’re doing right now is going against conservation,” she said after the decision.
The forestry plan is a major part of the bid by the Progressive Conservatives to be re-elected in the province’s Sept. 22 election. The party says the strategy will create jobs and rejuvenate the forestry sector.