Despite spending the better part of his career surrounded by endless stretches of boreal forest, John Unger has almost no first-hand knowledge of the boreal woodland caribou, a species whose survival instincts keep it deep in the woods and away from potential predators.
“I’ve never seen a caribou in my life,” said the chief executive of La Crete Sawmills Ltd., a northern Alberta facility that employs around 100 people and is named after the hamlet it’s located in.
But the naturally reclusive caribou could soon leave a major imprint on northern communities such as La Crete, Unger said, as Ottawa pushes ahead with contentious species protection plans to save threatened herds.
The policy could have a “devastating” impact on Unger’s sawmill by designating large swaths of land off-limits to timber harvesting, in turn shrinking the mill’s productivity and profit margins. “Even a small reduction translates into several days without work,” he said.
Unger’s concerns are echoed by business owners and political officials, who say the federal policy could potentially cripple entire northern communities by blocking access to potential lumber and oil and gas resources. Softwood lumber producers are particularly wary of the proposed policy change.