Estimates - Environment (8 May 2007)
From Economy Committee Hansard - 8 May 2007
Department of Environment
To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 1:10:55.
Windows Media Player is required.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, I had a look at your website, particularly the current wildfire activity report site, the forest fire site, and I noticed that the current season of forest fires is under way. According to the site, we have extreme conditions in the Prince Albert fire centre, in Waterhen, the Buffalo Narrows, and La Ronge. And the total number of fires to date is 67 — only two less than what we had last year.
Now we know that last year there was some extreme challenges with regards to forest fires in the northern part of our province and we had called for some major reviews of the policy. You had indicated at the time last year when we discussed this, and earlier this year, that you did a departmental review and that we should look forward to some announcements. Well the only announcement that I’ve seen so far is that you’re taking delivery of two new air tankers.
My question is, what were the results of your review, the departmental review that you had that apparently took place after the 2006 fire season?
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Yes. The whole wildfire strategy for the provincial government includes the annual review which we talked about earlier, and that review is almost finalized. And a report of that should be available to the public very, very, very soon. And it basically builds on the things that we learned in the discussions with people right across the province, including members of the legislature who have raised a lot of questions about things that have happened. And it will reflect that there are some adjustments that will be made, but it’ll also confirm that from last summer we had a couple of very intense periods that were intense also right across the West, and that those were ones that really did have many of the challenges, as you say. But that, I’m hoping very soon, hopefully by next week.
Mr. Hart: — So what you’re saying is that the review isn’t quite complete. Is that what I heard you say?
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — It’s not quite in a final form.
Mr. Hart: — I mean, we’re started a new fire season, you know. I would’ve thought perhaps that the review would’ve been complete and any new strategies or at least adjustments to the current policy would be in place to deal with, you know, the upcoming fire season. You’re saying that you’re not prepared to discuss any of the, or the report won’t be available until next week at the earliest. Is that what . . .
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Let me explain. Basically as I explained, last fall it’s an operational review. What did you do? What things worked? What things didn’t work? And I can give you a summary, but I don’t have the published document for you. And if you wish I can, through the operational enhancements, if I can put it that way, for 2007, because I think that’s what you really are interested in, and that’s what I want to tell you. So we have a mutual agreement here.
Mr. Hart: — Okay.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — So let me go through the list and I’ll have Alan and Daryl expand further if you have some more detailed questions. But basically one of the first things that we’re going to do is we’re going to do more proactive training of fire crews and firefighters. And so right now we’ve been advertising for people to come and take the training and we’re paying them, I think, to do the training. So we’re paying for the training time on the successful completion of the emergency firefighter personnel course. So that’s something different than we did last year just so we get more capacity there.
We’ve increased the aviation capacity and that’s what you referred to with the new Convair 580A bombers that are now in service. So we now have three in service, and then we’ll get a fourth one by next year.
We’re also looking at different kinds of funding proposals submitted by communities within the observation zones so they can carry out fire hazard risk reduction projects. So quite a number of communities are starting to come forward with things that they can do that they’ve identified with the professional help of the firefighting system as to how to better protect their communities. So that’s a good thing.
We’re continuing to improve the values-at-risk database by incorporating even more information from the northern communities. And for example, the first report on the Athabasca land use plan identified many of the traditional sites that were important to people, and we’re trying to get all of that kind of information into the values-at-risk system as well as the habitat for different species that could be at risk. So that’s an ongoing project. Each year we keep adding information.
But that’s also the database where we have basically images of virtually all structures in the North that we know about, so that if a fire is going to a certain area, you can actually see whether it’s, you know, what kind of a place is there.
We’re also — based on the work we did last year — further developing the communications strategies between Environment, Corrections and Public Safety, Health, Social Services, Municipal Government, Highways and Transportation, and making sure that . . . and also then in a very direct way with First Nations. And we’ve had a number of discussions with the FSIN people around making sure we can improve the communication, alignment, and the cross-training of workers.
And the other thing that’s being done in this year’s budget — when we pass it — is to increase the compensation for northern forest protection workers. So those people in that program will have increased compensation and also the First Nation crews. And there’s also an increase in wages to the emergency firefighting personnel.
So. So those are the operational enhancements and as you can hear, a number of them are based on the concerns that people raised last year, that you’ve raised at the senior officials meeting, with communities that have been affected by the fires have raised as well.
So I don’t know if . . . Daryl, is there anything else that I’ve forgotten there?
Mr. Jessop: — Not really as far as new enhancements. I could just mention that we do have 38 fire towers in operation this spring. With the rebuilding of the fire tower system after the dismantling due to the engineers’ reports and the OH&S [occupational health and safety] concerns, we have 38 towers out of the original 50. And we’re working towards future plans with future budgets to rebuild the entire system. But we do have 38 towers in operation this spring.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you for that. You know, I think the enhancements and adjustments that you mentioned I think, you know, certainly are things that I would hope would lead to more effective fighting of forest fires.
But one thing that I didn’t hear, and perhaps, Minister, you’d like to comment on it, is it seemed to me last year that part of the problem that communities ran into, and particularly going back to the Stony Rapids fire, I think it was made abundantly clear — both to myself and to my colleague when we were up there — by the residents of Stony Rapids and Fond-du-Lac and Black Lake, the issue in their minds, and I think I have to agree with them, is that adherence to that 20-kilometre radius around communities before there was response to the fire didn’t work. The fire had gotten out of hand.
And as I had mentioned — and we discussed this last November — the people of the North and the people of Stony Rapids in particular felt very strongly that if that fire had been attacked much earlier, we wouldn’t have been in the situation that we were, where we almost lost that community. And what their recommendation is — and I’m not sure whether you have heard that or not from those people — is that there needs to be some flexibility. That when people of the North who are experienced with forest fires, when your own staff are on the ground there saying, look we need to attack this fire earlier, I think that has to be part of the policy, that we need to have that flexibility.
It seems to me last year that we didn’t have that flexibility and that caused a near disaster. And I think, you know, I don’t know whether in your policy part of the discussions as part of the 2007 program whether you’ve addressed that but I would certainly like your comments in that area.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Okay. Well I guess what I would say to all of the public in Saskatchewan that when a fire, a forest fire, is going to create a risk for a community it will be fought whether it’s 20 kilometres or 50 kilometres. But the risk will be assessed. And so I think that that flexibility that you talk about has been part of this but it will receive more emphasis as a result of what was learned in that particular fire because of how rapidly the fire moved once it started moving. And I might turn it over here to Daryl in a minute to actually talk a bit more about that.
But I want to assure you and assure all the people in Saskatchewan that the whole goal of the wildfire management policy is to protect people and their homes and their communities and businesses and do it by assessing the risk. And there’s no, no limit on whether the risk is 100 kilometres away or 50 or 20 or 10. If it’s a risk to that community then somebody’s going to be working at it and monitoring it. And on top of that then we’re getting more and more sophisticated too in also assessing the risk and I think that’s, that’s a key point where I might turn it over to Daryl.
Mr. Jessop: — The 20-kilometre full-response zone is one of a suite of the response zones that we have in the fire management strategy. And the fire management strategy is nothing more than what it actually is. And it is an operational guideline, it’s a written guideline. So it’s an operational guideline. And what it’s designed to do is help with decision making at the provincial basis, to throw up red flags with respect to when we get the situations like we often get with multiple fires and fires anywhere, we have to determine where we’re going to be able to move our scarcity of resources. And we move resources all across the province — aircraft, personnel, equipment, and so on. So it’s a guideline so that it falls within the fire, insect, and disease management policy which the public has identified the high priorities — people, community, commercial forest, and that kind of thing.
So when we get those multiple fires we start moving, we can move the, we move aircraft and so on to . . . Particularly with the communities when we now have this, an actual circle, that really throws up a red flag to people if there’s a fire within the circle. Then we really have to assess closely what’s happening. Is there a threat to that community? Are there other communities potentially being threatened? So it’s an operational guideline for decision making.
But we do assess every fire and we monitor every fire. We take initial attack where we need to take initial attack and we monitor the fires that do not pose threats. But anything that is a threat, it is a guideline. We’ve been reinforcing it; we’re ensuring that we’re reinforcing it with all staff in that we will fight fires that are a threat to communities.
And we’re also using a satellite detection system as well. It’s run out of the United States. We have access to this satellite detection system where we can monitor larger fires that are at least a kilometre in size. We were even using that last year when it was smoked in around La Ronge and we couldn’t fly any aircraft for a day. We were able at least to have some sense of where the fires were and the threat that was being posed to the communities and structures and cabins and the like.
Mr. Hart: — Well I’m glad to hear you say that it’s a guideline and I think the impression was last year that it was a rigid guideline. And I feel very strongly that we need to have some flexibility there and, you know, certainly with all the tools that you mentioned that you have available to you to monitor and to first, you know, to first become aware of a forest fire and those sorts of things, you still, I think you must, I think it’s imperative that you also put into the mix of all the tools you have, the advice from the people that are on the ground and use their experience and their knowledge also.
I mean we can have all the nice tools, the satellites and all those kind of things, but none of that negates the experience and the advice of people who live in those areas and, you know, have many years of experience. And that’s what I would strongly urge. You know, we’ve never taken the position that fire doesn’t play a role, because we certainly accept that. I think the science is there and those sorts of things. It’s just the implementation of the current policy and those sorts of things.
Mr. Jessop: — I just want to reassure that we do use the local staff knowledge as well. We use local people’s knowledge because we recognize that computer models and all the science that you have can’t give you everything perfect because there are local situations. There’s local wind and that kind of thing. So we certainly do use local knowledge as well.
Mr. Hart: — Last November, Minister, when we discussed the new air tankers, the 580s, you and your officials said that during the 2006 fire season that those aircraft could only be loaded at La Ronge and Prince Albert. But you said that there was some work or some consideration and perhaps some work being done to have some other locations where these tankers could be loaded. Has anything changed since last fall for the 2007 season?
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Well I’ll say I’ll let Daryl go on with the other parts. But it’s important for everybody to know that in Regina and in Saskatoon, we’ve worked out very good arrangements with the local firefighting people there at the airports so that they have now been trained to load the tankers so that they can be actually be used for fires in the southern part of the province. And I’ll let Daryl go and deal with the northern ones.
Mr. Jessop: — And with the capital we have been able to finish all that we needed to finish with the aprons on all of the airstrips where we can actually land tankers. So we are operating out of Prince Albert, La Ronge, Buffalo Narrows, Meadow Lake, and Hudson Bay. And as the minister said, we’ve worked with Saskatoon and Regina so we can actually come into the southern area as well. And we operate out of Flin Flon as well with the CL-215 water tankers, can operate out of Flin Flon as well.
Mr. Hart: — So the 580s for 2007, you’ll be able to reload them in Meadow Lake and Buffalo Narrows, and Hudson Bay as you mentioned.
Mr. Jessop: — And Hudson Bay as well, yes.
Mr. Hart: — So that gives them more . . . Are you looking at . . . You still don’t have a base in the Far North and that’s where the area where we ran into problems. I’m no expert in airstrips and those sorts of things, but it seems to me just from personal experience, Stony Rapids seems to have an airstrip that if it’s not completely suitable then it would seem to me it could be made suitable. What is the situation in Stony Rapids?
Mr. Jessop: — We have assessed all of those areas up there and right now we cannot operate out of them. There is not room to operate these huge planes out of, at Stony Rapids where there are other planes coming into the hangar area. There is no space.
It is in our long-term plans, to our capital plans, for our next phase, the phase 3 is to look at something like that in the North. We have some work that we need to do with respect to hangar space for maintenance of these large aircraft as well as looking at that northern situation. But right now we would not be able to operate out of Stony Rapids.
However at Stony Rapids we can, with special permission there is just enough room that we can at times site the CL-215 water bombers, and we have in the past had the CL-215 water bombers there. They have to put them off to the edge of the apron, and there’s just barely enough room to do it. So we can make special arrangements to do that, and we do.
And also with the 580’s now for response time up to Stony Rapids, Uranium City, Black Lake, wheels up off of the airstrip at La Ronge, it’s a 55-minute flight loaded, whereas with the trackers it was around an hour 45 to two hours. So we’ve got 55 minutes there. We have out of Prince Albert an hour to Cypress. Out of anywhere in the central part of the province — Prince Albert, La Ronge, Saskatoon, Regina — would be 30 minutes to east, west — either side of the province.
So with this large-capacity aircraft that drops eight and a half tonnes, one and a half times, or one and a half Tracker loads, we have the speed that we can get up to these areas now with that aircraft as well, then can be followed behind as well with the CL-215 water bombers.
Mr. Hart: — So since what I understand you are saying then is that you feel quite confident with the current configuration of loading sites for the large 580’s and their speed and ability to attack fires in the Far North, that you feel that that’s an acceptable arrangement that you have. And you’ll be quite effective in attacking any large fire that may threaten a community with these three large-tank 580’s that you have.
Mr. Jessop: — Yes, they can be very effective. Due to the capacity that we now have with three aircraft and due to the speed — and like I say, one hour to Stony Rapids as an example — we feel fairly comfortable with how we’re going to be able to respond with the capacity that we now have.
Mr. Hart: — So you’re not looking in the future to making arrangements to have an emergency site in the North in case things really get out of hand? There’s no need to do that. I understand that you need to get the retardant up there and well fuel, you know. I know they have aviation fuel. I’m not sure whether these planes require a special blend of aviation fuel or whatever, but whatever it is you need to have on standby in an emergency situation. You’re not looking at that scenario at all then in the foreseeable future for the large 580’s?
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Well no, that’s part of the plan. Yes, it is part of the plan.
Mr. Hart: — Oh, okay.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — And so it’s just we got phase 1 and phase 2.
Mr. Hart: — Okay.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Phase 3 will include that.
Mr. Hart: — So . . .
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — And that will include capability probably at Stony Rapids.
Mr. Wynes: — It all depends on the road. When that road is in good condition there so we can haul fuel; we can haul retardant in, because as you said we have to haul retardant in. We have to have tanks set up and all that kind of thing so . . .
Mr. Hart: — I understand that the residents of that area are bringing in supplies over the, well we won’t, I don’t think we could quite call it a road, but it is a passageway from Points North to Black Lake and Stony Rapids and those communities.
So that’s the next phase then, looking at establishing an emergency base or something of that nature for those large tankers. I think the people of the North will be pleased to hear that.
Minister, what are the concerns — and it was an issue that really didn’t come to mind until people raised it with me last summer — is some of the effects of forest fires on trapping areas for First Nations people? I did see the after-effects of a forest fire in the area and the soil being eroded into the rivers and, you know, affecting fish habitat or at least I would imagine that all the silt that’s been silted into the rivers would affect fish habitat.
And I know that particularly the First Nations people, the people at Black Lake, where this is really a serious, a major issue for them, they said no one asked us about, you know, how we felt about you allowing forest fires to devastate our natural hunting areas and trapping areas and those sorts of things. And that brings up this whole issue of duty to consult. Now is there a requirement on government, in view of some of the most recent court cases and this whole issue of duty to consult, in this whole area of fighting forest fires does the provincial government have a duty to consult with First Nations as to how they would be impacted by a change in policy?
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Well that’s an interesting speculative question. But I think the answer is that anything that we’ve been doing in the forest fighting in the North has to be done in conjunction with the communities, so that they understand different parts. And so when we look at our improving the mapping of the values at risk, it would include that kind of information that would, that the elders and others, the trappers and many have now brought into the Athabasca land use plan. And if you ever look at the plan, you can see the important places from historical perspective, but also you can see where the different habitat places are, and so that’s the kind of information. We’re trying to figure out how to get it into the values-at-risk program so at least that everybody knows what’s there, and then we’ll be able to talk with the communities.
So in that basis I don’t think it fits technically into the Mikisew case, you know, which was from over in Wood Buffalo Park, not too far away from all of this, and that related to building of a road, which is quite a different activity than fighting forest fires. But I think the important point is that all of these discussions around different issues will raise new questions that need to be looked at carefully and thought through and responded to. And so we’ll do that.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you for that. I’m just looking at a news release from your department that was in one of the local papers here this past month. And the article says that contracts with aircraft companies that are being negotiated to ensure that both helicopters and planes are available when needed to detect and suppress forest fires.
The aerial applicators of this province have, I believe, made a presentation to your department and department officials about the role that they possibly could play as do the applicators in Manitoba. Have you been in any discussions with them recently to access those planes in emergency situations? It’s the single engine air tanker program that I’m referring to.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — I think what you’re referring to there relate to the helicopter contracts. And I don’t think that there’s been, in the last number of months, discussions with aerial applicators. But it’s clearly something that department officials have talked with them over the last couple of years.
Mr. Parkinson: — We have not met with them recently. Our last meeting with them — I can’t remember the specific time — but it was well over a year ago.
At that time that we talked to single engine air tanker operators, we felt that the services that they can provide could be quite useful in specific applications — urban-rural interface areas, other areas where landscape features make conventional firefighting difficult to get to. But we don’t see them as being part of our overall program based on the capability of the number of aircraft that you’d have to have. And when you stack them up against the CV-580 there’s significant efficiency that the 580 offers. But we do recognize that there are a specific niche of circumstances where they could come into play, particularly along the sort of forest fringe in the southern part of the provincial forest.
So we had talked to the aerial applicators about potentially entering into a contractual circumstance with them. They haven’t, in my mind they haven’t gotten back to us because there were some . . . I’m trying to drag the recesses of my memory here. But there were some constraints on them in terms of the available equipment that they would have to have.
At the time they were looking at Sask Environment to include funding for upfront purchase of equipment, to make that available through the fire program, whereas at the time we were more interested in putting them on contracts similar to what our helicopter contracts are. So there would be a helicopter firm with equipment available and be available for standby work. And my recollection was is that the aerial applicators weren’t in that similar circumstance.
Mr. Hart: — Well I guess it’s kind of a chicken and the egg situation that we have here. I think if the applicators had some indication and if there was some sort of a formalized agreement with the department, I think you would, they tell me that you would see an increase in the number of types of aircraft that could be used to fight forest fires. I know we do have some — that they do have some.
I spoke to an operator last summer at the height of the forest fire season. And this particular fellow had a plane down in Nevada or some such place fighting wildfires. And he made the statement that he’d much rather be fighting fires in his own home province. And I certainly don’t profess to be an expert, but I know it just seemed to me when we had all those fires in the La Ronge area, it seems to me that that would be an area where these planes probably, if arrangements were made ahead of time, that they probably could have been used.
I’m not sure of the logistics or not. I realize they need to have their ground support and that sort of thing, but La Ronge isn’t that far away from, you know, Prince Albert and those areas. But perhaps your officials would care to comment on the suitability of those type of planes, you know, in the La Ronge area.
Mr. Jessop: — Yes. The analysis that we’ve done and the work that we’ve seen that is being done in Manitoba and also Alberta where they have contracted those aircraft, they’re suitable for certain situations, particularly light fuel situations. So, like was mentioned, if you’re down in the forest fringe and the farm land area where you have a lot of light fuels, you know that’s the kind of equipment that could, it could potentially work in those situations. But when you get into the dense canopy, dense forest, that’s where we need the heavy haulers, particularly with what we’ve been seeing with fire activity over the last number of years. You know the temperature’s been rising and we’ve seen higher fire numbers in the last 8 out of 10 fire seasons. We’ve seen large fires in ’95,’98, 2002, 2003. It seems to more reoccurring and there seems to be more difficulty in fighting them.
In the commercial forest area where we have that dense timber, you really need a huge load and we’re finding that in other provinces as well. That’s why BC is using heavy haulers. Alberta’s using heavy haulers as well and but they’re using . . . They’re using them. So where the capability works there’s possibility but not in a heavy forest. There’s not the proper area.
Mr. Hart: — Well you mentioned that as the temperatures rise and so on that you may have more wildfires spread through a greater part of the province and that was sort of the next area I was going to go into. What type of planning are you making in this whole area of wildfire suppression? What types of plans are you looking at or at least discussing to deal with some of these effects that we may see in future years due to climate change where we can have a very active forest fire season, and also in combination with that — as we saw last summer — a number of wildfires in the southern part of our province that could severely strain the firefighting resources?
And it would seem to me that, as you mentioned, the single engine air tanker program I would think would have a fit. If they’re not equipped and not built to fight forest fires in the heavy forest stands, maybe we better have some arrangement in place to have them on standby to look after some of these other emergency situations, whether it be forest fringe or out in southern Saskatchewan where you have wildfires going through community pastures and crop land and those sorts of things.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Well one of the things that we do in Canada is work together across the country, and so we have a Canadian wildfire strategy. Now we haven’t gotten the support from the new federal government around getting the finances that were supposed to be there from before, but we’ve been pushing that and that’s an item of discussion at the ministers’ meetings — meeting with the federal minister. And so we’re hopeful that they’ll come forward. And basically the plan is and the agreement is that each province will develop resources which they can use locally but that also can go to another province or territory when it’s necessary. And so building up our capacity in Saskatchewan is part of our agreement nationally to be ready to help if necessary, and when you go to another province, when you get compensated for it, and the rules are all clear.
We have just finished signing, or we’re in the process of a similar agreement involving Northern states and Western provinces and territories which adds us into a whole mix of equipment and firefighters from the northern and western United States. And as we all know they have some pretty intense, experienced people from a number of the fires that they’ve had to deal with.
I think your underlying question is a really good one though, about how do you adapt to clearly what’s a climate change. And we heard some similar things when we were talking about the mountain pine beetle, is that we end up having to work very carefully with the professionals, the biologists, and the climate change people as they look at and make predictions about what’s changing and where the habitat and the vegetation is changing, because then that will change the nature of the fire.
One of the points you raised about some of the smaller planes that would be of assistance, many times those fires are managed by local RMs [rural municipality] and communities, and that really the forest fire fighting fleet is only brought in after there’s a, you know, a really major emergency. But it’s nice to know that we have in our province this capability. And we’re especially pleased to get the Regina and Saskatoon bases for the CV-580As planes because that gives us much more capacity.
But I think you have to take it all into this broader context. And what happens is, and the ads for the helicopters is to line up people who are going to be willing to help on a moment’s notice, depending on what the risk assessment predictions are. Well you may end up with some other people that are set up on contracts, but to have them on a sort of full contract use all the time, that’s probably beyond what we would deem prudent.
Mr. Hart: — Minister, when you were talking about the agreements with the provinces and the Northern states to share firefighting resources and build capacity, this agreement, does it include just government or provincial- and state-owned resources or is it an inventory of all resources available, whether they be provincial or state owned or privately owned? Just what does that agreement encompass as far as capacity and resources available?
Mr. Jessop: — As far as the capacity, it’s mostly provincialand state-owned equipment, although they do have private contractors that work in some areas as well. It gives us access to those private contractors that they have as well. So there is some room for expansion there with private contractors there as well.
Mr. Hart: — So when you refer to private contractors, are these contractors that have ground equipment or . . .
Mr. Jessop: — Ground equipment. A lot of ground equipment with heavy equipment such as crawlers, in some cases perhaps water trucks. Sometimes we have a shortage of water trucks and that kind of thing.
Mr. Hart: — Mr. Chair, that concludes my questions.
To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 2:55:10.
Windows Media Player is required.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, I just have a few questions on a couple of topics. The hour is late, and we’ll try not to stay here too much longer.
The first issue that I’d like to raise with you — and I did raise this issue with you briefly the past number of months; I believe it was last fall — it has to do with the Brightsand Lake area. I’m looking at an email letter that was sent to you from Karen Albert of Edmonton. I believe this individual is a spokesperson for cottage owners on the south end of Brightsand Lake.
And briefly just to summarize, the issue is apparently the shoreline has receded, and a sand berm has developed and established a new shoreline. But there is a depressed area on the south end of the lake where stagnant water collects, and various weeds and foxtail grass and those sorts of things have grown up. And the residents, the cabin owners in that area would like to go and clean that area up, take very similar action to what took place on the north end of Brightsand Lake by the regional park people. And apparently they are being prevented in doing so.
And Ms. Albert has written to you dated February 13 of this year outlining the situation and asking for your assistance. She states in her letter that they are having some problems with local conservation officers in the Lloydminster region, and they aren’t being helpful, and so that’s why they’re running into some problems.
And I wonder if you or your officials could address this issue as to why these people are being prevented from taking some action similar to what the regional park did on the north end of the lake.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Well I don’t have all of the information with me tonight, but I know some of the facts around this particular case. But basically when you start dealing with the shorelines of lakes and streams, you get into fish habitat area which means then that it’s co-operative work with the federal government, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, around any kind of alteration to the shoreline.
Now I think normally mowing some weeds or something wouldn’t be a particular problem. But sometimes there’s much more that ends up happening, and that’s when the Fisheries officers who are federal government employees start raising questions. Then some of our Environment people get caught into that particular situation as well.
I know we had similar questions on Good Spirit Lake a couple of years ago that were resolved when the water level came up. And as we’ve heard earlier this evening, we’ve got too much water in quite a few of our lakes. And this is probably one lake that has a little less water than it used to, so it’s got weeds growing on the edge.
But I think, well you know, if we have the letter — which I know we do because I’ve seen it — we’ll look at responding. And I might let Mr. Phillips add a little more about some of the processes involved here. And I just say, we have a memorandum of understanding with the federal government where we worked closely with Fisheries and Oceans people. We’ve worked at that for a while because we’ve had a lot of discord, if I can put it that way, but I don’t think this is quite that.
Mr. Phillips: — Yes. If for a circumstance like you described, where it’s a receded lake bed and there’s weeds growing up and it’s, you know, impeding the view or foot traffic down to the lake, normal procedure would be to contact the local office. Conservation officer would probably be the most convenient. And for routine mowing or, you know, raking up of debris and moving it out of the road, typically that’s not a problem.
The issues that come up is when there’s, you know, like cultivation of the lake bed or moving rocks out of the lake. That begins to infringe on the federal Fisheries Act prohibitions against fish habitat alterations. So usually simple cleanup and maintenance is not an issue; it’s the permanent alteration that’s of concern under the federal Fisheries Act.
Mr. Hart: — Well just for the record I guess, in her letter Ms. Albert says that “We’ve had a terribly difficult time having the conservations officers in this area even discuss compromise to their very firm attitudes.” So my interpretation of that would be that they just can’t seem to get anywhere with the local officials as far as, you know, some compromise in this area. I guess also Brightsand Lake is a highly alkaline lake, and so the fish numbers are quite limited and that sort of thing, and however I guess there still are fish there.
I guess very briefly if you could just explain the protocol or the relationship between the federal department of oceans and fisheries. I know they have caused quite a number of problems throughout Saskatchewan, and it just, you know, I think the people of the province are wondering well, why oceans? We don’t have oceans in Saskatchewan. And you know why . . . and this is I think a fairly . . . within the last 10 years I’m guessing that, you know, where did this all start? It’s fairly recent in terms of relationships between the province and the federal government. And so could you just give us a chronology of where this all started and try and attempt to provide some rationale for this whole relationship.
Mr. Phillips: — I’ll try and make a short story out of it because it could be a long story. Our federal colleagues always say with pride that the federal Fisheries Act was one of the earliest pieces of legislation that still lasts today. But in 1994 the province brought in a new provincial fisheries Act and argued successfully with the federal government that fish are an interest in water which is a responsibility of the province.
The federal government accepted that argument and withdrew all of their regulations pertaining to management of fish populations except for two important areas — one, fish habitat and the other, fisheries matters related to the treaty Indian and Métis people. So we’re a little different in Saskatchewan than any other province. We have more of an ability to manage fish directly, but the federal government still retains their authority for fish habitat.
We’re in the process of finalizing an administrative agreement with Fisheries and Oceans to better distinguish between which project types or which types of developments would naturally require a federal fisheries officer review and which could be completely handled by the province by referral to us. And typically it’s by class of development so there’s a series of . . . I think they’re called best practices for culvert design or for things like we just finished talking about, shoreline maintenance, where that would be quite routinely handled by referral to our department.
The other projects that have more significant implications for fish habitat, there’ll be a joint review required. So the intent is to make it more predictable for an applicant who they’re dealing with and to sort out more clearly who has which responsibilities.
The other part of what you asked was, what happened with DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] — all of a sudden they showed up. The federal government made a very deliberate decision to begin to exercise their fisheries mandate on inland waters. I think it was about eight years ago or so. And they hired a number of fisheries enforcement officers, fisheries biologists, and so on who moved into prairie Canada.
Prior to that, we had no federal fisheries officers in Saskatchewan. They all were quartered out of Winnipeg. I think part of the initial difficulties were that they weren’t acquainted with the way business is done inland. Their tradition is marine, and even the coast guard is part of their organization. And, you know, their style of enforcement and their approach to resolving issues was very . . . more like a military one than a collaborative one.
But they have recently realigned that inland program. They’ve reduced the number of federal fisheries officers significantly. I think they’re down to five or six in prairie Canada. Most of their staff have either been reassigned or retooled, if you will, to be compliance helpers and biological advisors as opposed to hard-nosed law enforcement officers which the first group were.
Mr. Hart: — Good. Thank you for that. So I would take it from your comments then that we may see a somewhat less rigorous enforcement on the part of the federal department, which I think many people in the province would breathe a bit of a sigh of relief in that area. Certainly, as you stated there, I’m sure there’s a legitimate role. But when they start causing problems with an RM installing a culvert between two small bodies of water where the chances of having a fish survive in those waters would be very limited, and so on. And of course, we’ve all heard the problems that RM councils across the province have incurred.
Just the last issue that I would like to raise this evening is a continuation of something that, an issue that I discussed with you back on April 4, and that has to do with the whole area of hunt farms and game farming and that whole issue. I guess, just to . . . I’ll just briefly summarize some of our discussions that had to do with, particularly, the export of keeps and horns of foreign hunters — American hunters mostly — coming up hunting in Saskatchewan and then taking their trophies back with them. And I believe he indicated, when we had this discussion a month ago I guess, that the tag that’s received when you buy a hunting license is the export document that hunters need to take their keeps and horns back.
Well what is the . . . And you also had indicated that as far as hunt farms, that your department really didn’t have a lot of any responsibility in that area except that the issue of the hunters harvesting animals on hunt farms and then taking them back with them. What documentation do they require, if any? It seems to me it may fall under your jurisdiction or your department’s jurisdiction.
Mr. Phillips: — I probably should’ve given him a more complete answer the last time we talked about it. The hunting licence constitutes sufficient authority for export of wildlife when the animal’s accompanying the hunter back across the international border.
An export permit is needed if they leave their trophy behind and have it shipped at a later date. Now often people will take it to a taxidermist or something and then get it shipped. So the form that you had is a form that we’ve used to get the information that’s needed for that type of an export permit.
With respect to game farm animals taken on a First Nation, we’ve worked to try and help enable our colleagues at the international boundary to recognize what’s, you know, legitimate wildlife going across the border. We had advised through the FSIN and some of the individual First Nations on the design of a licence. And we also communicated with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on the American side of the border that they could expect to see this type of tag in the future.
There were issues, there have been occasional issues of tags that aren’t legitimate and we continue to work through our enforcement staff on trying to get in front of and on top of that issue. But for a person who’s going home and leaving their wildlife behind, they’ll need an export permit and that form is the application form for that export permit.
Mr. Hart: — That form, I believe last time when you looked at the form, you made a comment that it was a form that dated back to 2004, but it is the form that is still currently in effect to accommodate those types of situations?
Mr. Phillips: — Yes, and it’s primarily used from our North Battleford office because it’s mainly First Nations in that — our administrative area out in North Battleford — that the circumstances has arisen where hunters have left trophies behind to export later.
Mr. Hart: — So zeroing in on First Nations hunt farms and particularly the issue in the North Battleford area that’s dealing with the Cree Nations Outfitters . . . That’s the name of the business that the owner contacted me and raised these issues, Mr. Nordstrom. What I have been led to believe is that a hunt farm located on a First Nations, they — at least from their viewpoint — they feel they only need to comply with federal regulations, the CFIA regulations. Are there provincial regulations that they need to comply with? Like they have established their own, Poundmaker First Nation has established its own bylaws and apparently designed or issued tags to accommodate, you know, the hunting activities or the harvesting activities, I guess, on the hunt farm. What involvement or what responsibilities would the provincial government and your department have?
Mr. Phillips: — We have no authority on the First Nation so, you know, the activities they engage in with respect to outfitting or hunt farms is really their business. They’d be affected by federal, federal legislation.
Where we have interaction and concern is the movement of animals into, you know, across provincial lands on to a First Nation and making sure that they’re properly disease tested and they adhere with import protocols to make sure that there isn’t a new disease that’s going to be moved into the province.
Typically hunt farms bring in trophy animals from other breeders and then their customers shoot them on the hunt farm.
We’ve been working with Canadian Food Inspection Agency and with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food to try and come to grips with making sure that these import protocols are respected in the transportation of game animals. We initially had some difficulty though because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wasn’t recognizing the interprovincial movement of animals as a matter of concern to them. Their interest is primarily a national one — in and out of the country — but we’ve had better progress recently.
Mr. Hart: — So just to be clear, hunt farm operators can bring animals from other provinces into Saskatchewan under the current regulations that are in effect — whether they’re provincial or federal — provided they meet the health standards and those type of things.
Mr. Phillips: — Yes. And the testing protocols are different for different game animals. So for example for elk there’ll be a particular regimen of tests that need to be done and a proof of those tests before the animal can be imported to the province. And likewise for white-tailed deer.
Mr. Hart: — So long as the importing parties follow all the protocols and regulations, there’s nothing preventing them from bringing game farm animals in from another province into their hunt farms to be harvested by their clients.
Mr. Phillips: — That’s right.
Mr. Hart: — Okay. Well I’d like to refer to a letter that we received from a Darrell Nordstrom, which is father of Carlin Nordstrom, the operator of Cree Nation Outfitters. Mr. Nordstrom, senior, lists quite a litany of problems that his son is having with officials of the department where Environment officials are posted or at least seen at the Saskatoon airport and have confiscated capes and horns from their clients. It goes on to list a litany of harassment of their customers and those sorts of things. And they don’t seem to understand, you know, why this is happening.
You know, I raise this issue to . . . I’m sure you’re aware of the case. And you know, I know there’s always two sides to the story. And you know, you may or may not be at liberty to divulge what, you know, what the department’s concerns are. But for the public record, I . . .
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — I think let’s take a step back from this. Basically the issues that relate to the hunt farming are dealt with in Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, and Saskatchewan Environment provides some advice clearly on this, and then the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. So all three parties are working together. Those three parties have been working together with the FSIN because there have been a number of these issues related to some of the First Nations.
The real issue is the health of the population, the provincial resource. And some of the activities that have been intercepted or dealt with relate to an overall concern about the transport of the animals without all of the proper protocols being followed. And there’s a whole number of things there that are presently being examined quite carefully. And I think that if we just remember why it’s being done — which is to protect the health of the wildlife in Saskatchewan — then we need to wait and see how these things play themselves out through the appropriate dispute resolution processes.
And so I think that we’ve got the people who are the professionals in this area, whether it’s biologists, research people, the enforcement people, the people working with the First Nations, with the food inspection across the country, all working on this. And I don’t think it serves us well to get in the middle of this while they’re trying to sort this out. I think everybody will be given an appropriate chance to tell their particular side of the story. But as long as we remember we’re doing all of this because we’re concerned about the overall health of the deer and elk population in Saskatchewan, and that’s why we as a community, as a legislature, bring in these rules that are being enforced.
And we know that under our constitution that there are many rights that First Nations have that are regulated through the federal government, and this is a particular area where not all the rules have been entirely clear. But I think everybody has the same goal, is let’s not have disease or unhealthy things happen to the overall population.
Mr. Hart: — Well Minister, you know, I certainly have to agree with you that, you know, we don’t want to jeopardize, you know, the overall health of wildlife and other game farm operations and those sorts of things. And if, you know, people aren’t adhering to proper rules and regulations, I mean I certainly don’t condone that. I mean everyone has the . . . If you’re going to be in the business you need to live up to the responsibilities.
But on the flip side of it I think we need to be also cognizant of the fact that this type of a hunt farm activity as far as an economic development activity in that region of the province — and in fact for many First Nations — has some huge potential. I’ve been provided with copies of support from, you know, satisfied clients who feel that, you know, that if the way they’re being dealt with by provincial officials continues, you know, they just won’t be coming back to Saskatchewan, period — and so on. And so, you know, we need to recognize that.
I’m not advocating that we short-circuit in any of the safeguards as far as disease and proper protocols and that sort of thing. You know, as I said I’ve heard the one side of the story. I thought I would, you know, raise this issue because there are always two sides of course. But I would just urge that we deal with this as quickly as we can in as fair a way as we can so that we don’t negate some of the opportunities for economic gain and economic development, and particularly with that portion of our people that are really looking to develop something new for themselves that, you know, can provide some real opportunities for a number of people that wish to get involved in this industry. And that’s the purpose of me bringing these issues forward.
Hon. Mr. Nilson: — No, and I appreciate that. But I think that what we need to remember is the overall purpose of legislation in this area. The hunt farms are an area where we’ve put in some fairly clear regulations and they need to be followed. We need to look at what happens through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and we need to make sure that the various protections that we have through Saskatchewan Environment are followed.
If people want to get involved in these kinds of businesses, the rules are there. And as we all know, when you understand why the rules are there it’s much easier to comply with them. So I encourage anybody that you talk to, that you should encourage them to sit down and understand why these rules are there. It’s for the protection of a resource for the long term. It’s not for something that’s going to happen in the short term. And we won’t apologize for enforcing rules that we’ve all brought forward because they are important for the health of this particular industry.
Back to 2006/07 Legislative Session