Sask. advocates talk peat moss protection with feds, request intervention


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A grassroots environmental group that wants to protect the muskeg in northern Saskatchewan from mining virtually took their concerns to Parliament Hill this week. 

Members of For Peat’s Sake joined other environmental groups and spoke with federal politicians at Nature on the Hill 2022, an annual event organized by national nature conservation charity Nature Canada. 

“Hopefully by connecting with all these other nature groups, we can really work together and bring our concerns forward and get people excited about these areas that are lesser known and help people to really understand the importance of them,” said Vanessa Hyggen, a member of For Peat’s Sake and of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, who lives in Saskatoon.

Nature Canada organized the week-long event to demand change. They want permanent government funding for the protection of nature, support for Indigenous-led conservation, stronger plans to save critical ecosystems like grasslands, forests, wetlands and ocean and access to nature for all. 

“It was a bit of a surprise to be invited, and a big honour to be part of a group of 70 other nature organizations that are lobbying the government to halt the loss the critical ecosystems like grasslands and wetlands,” said Mirimam Körner, who co-founded For Peat’s Sake about two years ago. She lives near one of the areas in Saskatchewan being assessed for harvesting by Lambert Peat Moss, a company based in Rivière-Ouelle, about 170 km northeast of Quebec City. 

Miriam Körner is the co-founder of For Peat’s Sake, a group of concerned environmental advocates trying to halt a peat moss mining project in northern Saskatchewan and raise awareness about the role muskeg can play in the fight against climate change. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Lambert Peat Moss has put forth a proposal to harvest 2,547 hectares of peat moss from four areas south of La Ronge, about 380 km northeast of Saskatoon, working in sections over the next 80 years. The company has said 540 hectares would be harvested from Crown land at a time.

No one from Lambert Peat Moss was immediately available for comment. 

There’s been strong local opposition to the Lambert Peat Moss project proposal from community members, local leaders and scientists who say the project will harm Indigenous land users and the environment. Peat moss develops over centuries and the wetlands, when left undisturbed, act as a giant natural carbon capture system.

Lambert Peat Moss has said it will focus on restoration and use reclamation techniques, but the company anticipates it would take about 1,500 years to accumulate pre‐harvest thickness.

Körner was part of a meeting involving Leah Gazan, an MP for Winnipeg Centre, on Thursday and Hyggen joined a virtual meeting on Tuesday with Saskatchewan MP Warren Steinley. 

“He was very interested in learning about the muskeg because he’s from southern Saskatchewan, so he didn’t know very much,” Hyggen said, adding people have historically viewed the wetlands as wastelands because they can’t be built or planted upon. 

“But the intrinsic value of it, the economic value of it, is in the land being intact.” 

A spokesperson for the politician said Steinley grew up on a farm in southwest Sask., and has a “a great appreciation for our natural environment and the people who live, raise families and make a living off the land and was happy to hear of the work being done to pass on a cleaner, greener environment to the next generation.”

A request for federal intervention

For the Lambert Peat Moss project to move forward, the company needs to submit its own environmental impact assessment to the Ministry of Environment for approval. The company hired WSP Canada Inc. to complete the impact statement, but Saskatchewan’s government has not received it yet. 

Körner said For Peat’s Sake has asked the federal government to designate the project under the federal Impact Assessment Act. 

“What that means for the project, would be that it requires an Indigenous-led impact assessment,” Körner said. “We have the knowledge up here in the community and we don’t want a consulting firm coming in and saying there is no significant impact.”

They expect to learn whether they are successful in their bid for federal intervention in April. The women said it is critical the land be left alone for the sake of the environment, the local land users and the animals.

“The whole peat muskeg area is surrounded by boreal forest, but that is vanishing really quickly [with] forest fires, but also clear cutting and logging,” Körner said. 

Stopping the Lambert Peat Moss mining project is a core goal for the group, but they’re also advocating for better policies to protect wetlands and developing alternatives to peat moss like locally sourced compost. 

She’s optimistic that their continued efforts will lead to change, and noted politicians of all stripes took time to listen this week.

“We’re not denying climate change anymore. We know it’s happening and now we have to find a solution together.” 

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