Premier Dalton McGuinty has announced a provincial government commitment to protect an area one and a half times the size of the Maritimes in Ontario’s far North.
Fifty per cent or 22.5 million acres North of the 51st parallel will be protected from industrial development
“Although the Northern Boreal region has remained virtually undisturbed since the retreat of the glaciers, change is inevitably coming to these lands,” said Premier McGuinty in the announcement. “We need to prepare for this development and plan for it. It’s our responsibility as global citizens to get this right and to act now.”
“We need to find a balance,” reflected Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle. “We have tremendous opportunities many of which First Nations communities are eager to move forward on but we need to preserve our north. Can we find a way to do both? I think we can.”
The region is home to 24,000 people living in 36 communities, the majority of which are First Nations north of Ontario’s grid of roads and power lines. Those communities will be able to develop their own land use plans within the context of the moratorium on development.
The boreal forests of the world store more carbon in trees, soil and peat than any other ecosystem.
Gillian McEachran, the senior boreal campaigner of the environmentalist organization ForestEthics, applauded protection of one of the largest remaining intact forest patches in the world in what she called “the largest commitment to conservation in Canada”.
“The premier has really stepped up and shown leadership, raising the bar for the whole planet.”
She points out the northern boreal forest stores 97 billion tones of carbon and that its maintenance will be essential for enabling species to react as the earth’s climate warms.
Scott Jackson, the policy manager of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, found the announcement to be short on details but stressed the 24 million cubic meters promised to the industry will not be compromised for the sake of forestry industry shareholders and sector workers.
“What we can say is that we hope the announcement won’t result in additional business uncertainty in this province. It’s something that the province can’t afford right now.”
The association cited a report from the Ministry of Natural Resources indicating the carbon stored in products of the forestry industry is four to five times greater than that stored in standing forests. Scott Jackson and association president Jamie Lim held up the “platinum standards” of the province’s forestry practices, reiterating their commitment to combating climate change.
“If you’re a country practicing deforestation, that’s not the case, but here in Ontario, because we reforest, that’s huge,” Jamie Lim stated.
“Remember when we’re taking about the boreal forest,” said Minister of Natural Resources Donna Cansfield. “The area of undertaking, we’re talking about the far North.”
Minister Cansfield anticipated that as the roadmap begins to take shape, it will be implemented hand in glove with the standards of the new Endangered Species Act, but that there is little to no logging currently occurring in most of the area under consideration.
As the provincial export-led mining industry generates $5-7 billion annually, the stakes are also high.
The province has been under intensifying pressure to change the 1873 Mining Act since the spring incarceration of Bob Lovelace of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and six community leaders from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninwug. A parallel, united lobby of 30 environmental and human rights organizations has been vocal on the need for change.
“That was an example of how things can go wrong,” said Gravelle of the so-called KI-6 imprisonment. “That’s why we are formally bringing the consultation on the Mining Act forward in August.”
Promising to work with First Nations, industry, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Minister Gravelle committed to have revisions on the act completed by Christmas.
Peter McBride, the manager for communications at the Ontario Mining Association, pointed out the figures in Monday’s announcement include vast tracts of land that will be nowhere near communities and that it marked the instigation of the process, not a full plan.
“The reality in Northern Ontario is outside of the confines of Thunder Bay, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Red Lake is that you would need two decades to gather enough information to develop a viable land use plan. The government is saying that they’re going to have a land use plan in 10 to 15 years? We’ll be at the table, but it’s a huge task.”
Mr. McBride complimented Minister Gravelle’s offices on narrowing the scope of the review to First Nations consultation and claim staking, stabilizing the confidence of his organization’s membership and stockholders.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after a July 15, 2008 article by Jon Thompson in The Kenora Miner & News