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Quebec Minister of Natural Resources and Forests Maïté Blanchette Vézina speaks during an interview at the legislature in Quebec City on Feb. 8.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The federal government committed to planting two billion trees across the country to restore natural habitats and fight climate change, and now Quebec wants to harvest some of them.

The provincial government is asking Ottawa to allow the local forestry industry to eventually chop down the trees in areas of the province hardest hit by last year’s forest fires.

Ottawa has earmarked more than $3 billion to help provinces, territories and organizations plant the two billion trees by the end of 2031 as part of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

The 2 Billion Trees program does not fund trees designated for commercial use, but Quebec says more federal help is needed to supplement provincial aid for beleaguered forestry companies and the regions that depend on them.

“We believe that the existing program would be the best tool for the federal government to support the communities affected by the fires,” the province’s forests minister, Maïté Blanchette Vézina, said in an interview Friday.

On Thursday, Vézina sent a letter to her federal counterpart, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, asking Ottawa to allow some of the trees to be harvested and used in the production of green building materials.

By replacing other, non-renewable and less environmentally friendly materials, the chopped wood could still achieve the program’s goal to mitigate carbon emissions, she said in the interview.

“We still want the forest to be able to capture carbon … but also to be an economic driver,” the minister said. “We hope that the federal government will adjust its existing program so that Quebec can continue to benefit 100 per cent from every tree planted.”

Ottawa, meanwhile, is resisting the proposal.

“The 2 Billion Trees program is designed to permanently increase the amount of trees and forest cover in Canada,” a spokesperson for Wilkinson said in an emailed statement.

“We have been clear that this program does not fund projects that plant trees just for them to be cut or harvested,” the statement said.

The 2023 fires destroyed 1.1 million hectares of forest in the southern half of Quebec, Vézina said in her letter. The scale of damage led the province’s forest regulator to recommend a reduction in the allowable wood harvest in some areas to prevent further deterioration of the environment.

More than 100 Quebec municipalities, forestry industry associations and unions co-signed Vézina’s letter. The Conseil de l’industrie forestière du Québec, which represents lumber and paper product producers in the province, also supports the request for changes to the 2 Billion Trees program.

“We think the federal government needs to take the extraordinary situation into account and make an adjustment, because an extraordinary problem needs an extraordinary response,” its CEO, Jean-François Samray, said in an interview.

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