I have a soft spot for Duck Mountain Provincial Park.
Lucky enough to have been born into a family with a rustic little cabin located within its boundaries—legend has it Grandpa acquired it as payment for an outstanding poker debt back when it was little more than a fishing shack—I spent every summer of my formative years there and have continued to return annually as an adult.
Duck Mountain is a beautiful part of Manitoba, definitely worth the half-day drive to get there. Largely undeveloped, its terrain is rough and wild (at least to this urbanite), full of pristine glacial lakes and boreal forest. There are several elevated lookouts throughout the park that provide amazing panoramic views, and it’s awe-inspiring in the true sense of the word to breathe in the crisp air and look out over a seemingly never-ending expanse of trees.
Of course, appearances can be deceiving.
Logging giant Louisiana-Pacific set up shop in Duck Mountain in the mid-‘90s. It struck me as odd that it would be allowed to operate in a provincial park (ostensibly designated as such because of its value as an intact parcel of land). I was scared, too. This was around the same time as the Clayoquot Sound blockades were making national news and I feared that in a few years, the park would look like the post-apocalyptic pictures coming out of B.C.—huge swathes of scorched earth with nothing left.
That hasn’t happened, but that’s not to say that L-P hasn’t left its mark on the landscape.
If you take Highway 10 and approach the mountain from the northern side near Swan River, you’ll drive right past the L-P mill. It’s an imposing structure. Smoke belches from it 24/7 and all around it, hundreds and hundreds of trees are stacked in neat piles, awaiting their turn with the chipper, the first step in a process that will transform them into oriented strand board.
Head up the mountain past Minitonas and you’ll notice that, for a while, the forest on either side of the highway extends only a few metres in. Window-dressing left up as a buffer for the tourists.
Last fall, the Doer government announced its intention to ban logging in 79 out of 80 provincial parks. I was elated—until I realized my beloved Duck Mountain was the one exception. The province justified its exemption by saying that existing agreements with “commercial harvesters” (a euphemism for what are actually multimillion-dollar logging corporations) were too complex to allow operations to end, and that mills and jobs are “completely dependent on the wood supply.”
It was bitter pill to swallow. And now, this—according to a recent Winnipeg Free Press article, L-P is petitioning the provincial government for permission to shut down the devices which, for the last decade or so, have controlled the amount of toxic pollution it spews into the air.
The company is losing money and needs to cut costs. Continuing to operate its regenerative thermal oxidizers is simply too expensive, it claims, and being forced to do so could mean it would have to shut down, putting some 175 people out of work.
Threatening job losses is an effective scare tactic for a company like L-P, especially during tough economic times and when it employs people who, by the province’s own admission, are “completely dependent on the wood supply” to pay their rent and feed their kids.
It’s also misguided in that it pits jobs against environmental stewardship as if the two are mutually exclusive. They’re not. If we degrade our environment until we can’t breathe the air, it won’t matter what shape our economy is in.
According to the article, L-P says shutting down its RTOs won’t harm the environment because it installed some sort of new system five years ago. Yet despite this claim, environmentalists remain suspicious.
I wonder why? Could it be that large corporations aren’t generally known for being all that trustworthy?
Ultimately, the provincial government has the final say in this situation. It has already capitulated to Big Forestry once, and it would be wise to proceed carefully, independently and with due diligence before making its next decision. The stakes are simply too high for anything less.