Peace and Environment News|
* February 1996
by Sarah Walker
Once again industry is making a grab for what remains of Ontario's dwindling old-growth forest. Premier Mike Harris has announced that the Temagami forest area is open for business. Only a very small percentage of Temagami is being even considered for protection—6 percent. Right now 16 percent is protected as park. Environmentalists hope to protect much more than only one-fifth of Temagami.
Temagami is a 10,000 square kilometre area northwest of North Bay. It is significant because it contains some of Ontario's last old-growth red and white pine. Only 1 percent of Ontario's old-growth forests remains. Temagami is the habitat of species such as the aurora trout, golden eagle and eastern cougar, all of which are endangered. Unfortunately it is also very rich in resources, resulting in heavy opposition by industry against attempts at preservation.
Old-growth forest is not simply a resource to be exploited. Left standing, it cycles water and nutrients through the ecosystem and counters the effects of global warming. It is the home of many species that only live in old-growth. While old-growth red and white pine are often the focus of conservation efforts, lesser known species of plants, insects and soil bacteria all play essential roles in a healthy ecosystem. Few of these species can be found in "modified" landscapes such as tree farms.
Unlike old-growth forest, monocultures such as tree farms are prone to insect attacks and disease. Logged areas that have been replanted have little variation in tree species or age, and are unable to support the variety of flora and fauna that old-growth can. The protection of Temagami's old-growth forest is essential as part of the campaign to maintain biodiversity.
The area's world renowned ecotourism should be promoted as a sustainable alternative to resource extraction. Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park, established in 1983, is the only major protected area in Temagami, measuring 72,300 hectares. Under the Harris government, mining and other development may be allowed close to the borders and headwaters of the park.
Temagami is the homeland of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai (TAA) First Nation, who have been struggling for their land rights for over a century. In 1877, Chief Tonene began petitioning the federal government to negotiate a treaty. Since then, several attempts have been made at settlement, none of which have been successful.
In 1973, the TAA successfully stopped a ski resort which was proposed for Maple Mountain and filed a land-claim "caution" for Temagami. The caution put a hold on mining and other industrial use of the area for almost two decades, giving activists some much needed time. Recently an Ontario Court ruled that the development freeze should be lifted, since the TAA land claim has been rejected.
In 1988, massive protests and road blockades initiated by the Teme-Augama Anishnabai brought Temagami into the headlines. As a result of the blockades, the provincial government and TAA agreed to the joint stewardship of 40,000 hectares within Temagami.
During the 1988 blockades over 350 people were arrested, including soon-to-be premier Bob Rae. Unfortunately, "Temagami Bob" took a much less radical stance after the election. Instead of taking strong measures to protect the area, the provincial government opted to create the Temagami Comprehensive Planning Council, or CPC, in 1989. Their purpose was to create a Land Use Proposal for Temagami.
The CPC was instructed not to create any new parks. Only one of its three land use scenarios proposed even minor increases in protection to the area.
The CPC's land use proposal was initially supposed to be completed in 1994, but due to a number of delays is just being released this March. The draft released in December recommended massive resource extraction with no evidence that this will financially benefit the area in the long run.
An economic study conducted for the White Bear forest in 1993 by the Temagami-Latchford Economic Development Corporation found that tourism could generate more long term sustainable income than could logging. This study is the only one completed for any part of the Temagami area.
Although the CPC is preparing to dissolve after it delivers the completed proposal, the fight for Temagami is not over. Many groups are far from satisfied with a few stands of representative old-growth. Native have resumed their blockades. The area will officially open to mining and logging as of April 1 but not without opposition.
By the time this article is printed, the CPC will no longer be accepting public input, but you can voice your opinions by writing to Minister of Natural Resources Chris Hodgson, 99 Wellesley St. W, Room 6301, Whitney Block, Queen's Park, Toronto, ON M7A 1W3.
If you would like more information on this issue, or wish to be a part of the ongoing campaign, contact the Forest Activist Collective, 241-7444, OPIRG-Carleton, 788-2757, or CPAWS, 730-2797.
(with files from Earthroots)
Sarah Walker is a member of the Forest Activist Collective.
Converted March 29, 2000 - Lg
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