SASKATOON -- Some who live near La Ronge are mobilizing in opposition to a peat moss harvesting project proposed at four locations near the town and neighbouring Lac La Ronge Provincial Park.

They’ve started a petition and formed a group to educate people about what peat moss harvesting operations do to the landscape.

Quebec-based Lambert Peat Moss Inc. has made an application to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment for 2,547 hectares of land for harvesting. A company spokesperson says the largest area that would be under development at any one given time would be 546 hectares.

The four parcels of land are located south of La Ronge, one parcel is near the Potato Lake that is used for recreation, trapping, fishing and wild rice harvesting.

“I’m totally against it,” said Eleanor Hegland. She’s a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and says stripping the land to harvest soil will disrupt the water and natural carbon-capturing properties on the muskeg.

She says from what she’s learned, it will take over 200 years to re-grow the soils and they will never be the same once stripped.

“Future generations? What are we going to leave for them, our young ones? Do you want them to see a beautiful forest, the plants and trees or do you want them to see a war zone,” said Hegland.

The company held an online public consultation in September.

Shortly after, some from the area formed a Facebook group to oppose the project called, For Peat’s Sake – Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs.

The group currently has 535 members. They say muskegs are integral to reducing the amount of carbon on the planet and filtering water.

"They're incredibly important for carbon sequestration. Like they take all of the carbon out of the air and put it down into the soil and I think it's about 60 percent of all carbon in the soil the peatlands," said Miriam Korner, a member of the group.

Korner has seen woodland caribou in one of the proposed areas. She’s concerned the caribou and other animals will lose their natural habitat and that the muskeg ecosystems would be disrupted with the draining of the bogs. She says the water-logged lands also act as a natural fire break that helps protect the area from forest fires.

The Ministry of Environment’s applications manager Breanne England says Lambert’s project application is subject to approval by the Environment Minister and it's not known when the environmental impact study will be complete.

“The public will have an opportunity to review the project and submit comments prior to the decision by the Minister of Environment,” said England.

WSP Consulting is conducting the study on Lambert’s behalf. Lambert Peat Moss is forecasting the project to begin in 2022.

“The project would remove a depth of approximately 150 cm of peat, leaving at least 50 cm in place. After reclamation, peatland functions can be restored and the vegetation will have similar composition to pre-harvest conditions,” said a statement from Lambert Peat Moss Inc.

The firm's technical proposal estimates the harvesting project would create 25 jobs from May to October each season for about 80 years. To harvest the moss, the company proposes draining bogs, clearing vegetation and building new roads to access the locations.

“Peat accumulation is a slow process because peat generates at a rate of about 1 mm/year. At this rate, it would take approximately 1,500 years to accumulate 1.5 m to return to the peat’s pre-harvest depth. The surface, however, will look similar to pre-harvest conditions within 5 to 7 years,” the Lambert spokesperson said.

A petition to halt the project had 18,991 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.