Remembering the Christmas Mountains

Written by Tracy Glynn on February 11, 2011

christmas-mountainsAlmost twenty years ago, New Brunswickers began a battle to save the Christmas Mountains in northern New Brunswick in what many recall as the largest mobilization for the forests in the province.

Today, the Christmas Mountains, located 70 kilometres west of Miramichi, are on the minds of those who love the area as another piece is carved off and clearcut; this time along the North Pole Stream.

“The North Pole Stream is a prime salmon spawning grounds and should be protected. North Pole Stream got its name for it’s cold temperatures that are needed by the salmon. Besides, the area should be protected for its natural beauty,” said David MacDonald, a resident of Moncton and board member of the Conservation Council.

The mountain range was once home to one of the few remaining large tracts of old growth Acadian forest, but now they are largely patchy clearcut remains.

Centuries before the region was named Christmas Mountains and its rounded peaks were named after St. Nicholas, the North Pole and all of Santa’s reindeers (except Rudolph) in 1964, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people travelled through the spruce and fir forests to trade, and to bury their deceased.

Canadian paper company, Repap, began cutting the first trees on Mount Comet and Mount Prancer in the late eighties. In 1993, Repap placed a full page notice in the Miramichi Leader announcing their plan to clearcut an area in the Christmas Mountains.

The plans to clearcut the mountains mobilized Aboriginal people, students from Mount Alison University, environmentalists, biologists and concerned residents across the province. The endangered lynx, the rare northern bog lemming, rare plants and the nest of a Cooper’s hawk had been spotted in biological surveys in the 1990s. Biologists noted that at least thirty species in the mountain range could not exist in a younger forest.

Repap threatened a lawsuit against members of the Friends of the Christmas Mountains and staff at the Conservation Council for damages that the company incurred as a result of a protest tent that a group of mostly university students had set up to stop the clearcutting. The groups threatened a counter suit, which led to Repap dropping their suit.

Since the mountains are public land, New Brunswickers felt they had a fighting chance to save the area from clearcutting. Two dozen environmental groups in the province petitioned the province to implement a 15-year moratorium on logging and road building in the Christmas Mountains but they were unsuccessful. The Frank McKenna government, with Allan Graham, as Natural Resources Minister, broke its 1995 pre-election promise to protect the Christmas Mountains and signed away the forest to Repap.

David Coon, executive director of the Conservation Council recalls how the government broke the news on the fate of the Christmas Mountains. “The government hoodwinked the press and played us. They invited all of us to the news conference where the Minister announced his so-called compromise, which was really no protection of the Christmas Mountains. Instead, we got two small ecological reserves and a ‘conservation area’ established well outside the region.”

Repap began building logging roads and started clearcutting over the next several years. The wood fed their Miramichi pulp and paper mills. In November of 1994, while men harvested wood in the Christmas Mountains, a wind storm ripped through the area, knocking down trees, which amounted to a million cords of wood being tossed on the ground. It was estimated that the wood kept the Miramichi mills going for about two years. Coon argued that clearcutting would only make the effects of wind storms worse but his advice was not heeded, and the clearcutting continued after the wood was salvaged from the wind storm.

Hank Bear, a Tobique resident living downstream from the cutting, publicly decried the impact of cutting the Christmas Mountains. He said the cutting affected the local fishery, increased floods and lowered the water table.

When UPM-Kymmene from Finland bought Repap in the year 2000, they continued harvesting wood from the area. By that time, the Christmas Mountains old growth forest was largely gone. Fornebu Lumber, a subsidiary of UMOE Solar from Norway, has taken over UPM’s license and has been harvesting wood from the area since 2009. The company was recently clearcutting an area near North Pole Stream.
mattjonah-smMatt Sheridan-Jonah, originally from Bathurst with roots in Sackville, worked with the Friends of the Christmas Mountains while a student at Mount Alison University. In December 1996, Sheridan-Jonah took a year off from university to work on the campaign to save the Christmas Mountains. Until recently, he was the Associate Registrar at Mount Alison University and is today the Executive Director of Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario. He is quoted in a 2001 Saltscapes article by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic saying that, “if the goal was to protect a large tract of continuous forest, the battle was lost. But if the wider goal was getting people to know about forests and Crown land and helping them realize that they are owners, then this struggle was successful, particularly in a province that has so much Crown land.”

In 2008, the Shawn Graham government announced they would increase the area of protected areas, including national parks, to 3.29% (237,500 ha). Roberta Clowater with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society points out that New Brunswick still has the lowest proportion of its public land in permanent protected areas of any jurisdiction in Canada.

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