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Ontario Protects Boreal

Posted by mhudema on July 15, 2008

Ontario vows to protect boreal forest

KAREN HOWLETT

Globe and Mail

TORONTO — The Ontario government has declared a huge swath of land in the Far North off-limits to industrial development, as part of a plan to combat climate change and preserve much of the province’s boreal forest and its endangered species.

The government has not yet drawn the boundaries for the areas to be protected. But it announced yesterday that it plans to ban mining exploration and forestry in one-half of the boreal forest, an area 1½ times the size of the Maritime provinces. About 225,000 square kilometres will be restricted to tourism and traditional aboriginal uses, such as hunting and fishing.

“It’s unspoiled and undisturbed, and if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s not going to stay that way forever unless we do something,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday.

The boreal forest represents just over 40 per cent of the province’s land mass.

It is one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems with more than 200 sensitive species of animals, including polar bears, wolverines and caribou, as well as migratory birds.

The region, well beyond Ontario’s network of highways and railway lines, has remained virtually undisturbed by human activity since the glaciers retreated. It is home to just 24,000 people, most of whom are aboriginals scattered in remote communities.

But as mining exploration companies go farther afield in their search for mineral riches, pressure is growing to open up the northern wilderness. Fast-growing, emerging countries such as China and India are helping to drive up commodity prices, and that has led to unprecedented exploration activity in Ontario.

Mr. McGuinty said his government needs to strike the right balance between conservation and development.

“We will only get one chance to get this right,” he said.

He initially promised during the 2003 election campaign to protect the boreal forest. While the plan will take 10 to 15 years to implement, announcing it now will help Mr. McGuinty burnish his green credentials when he and Canada’s other premiers hold their annual meeting later this week in Quebec City, where combatting climate change will be on the agenda. The boreal region absorbs about 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

With the remaining boreal lands, the government will work with aboriginal communities and resource companies on a sustainable development plan.

Opposition members criticized the government’s plan, saying it will chase away much-needed investment.

“In their rush to get good headlines about the environment, the McGuinty Liberals have failed to present a complete plan,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Jerry Ouellette.

New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson accused the government of creating confusion for industry with a plan that is short on details. Either no new exploration will take place or there could be a “free-for-all” for staking claims, he said.

However, the plan was universally praised by others. Stan Beardy, Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aki Nation, said he is pleased with the Premier’s pledge to give his 49 communities in the north a greater say in any development projects on their traditional lands, as well as a share of the riches.

Garry Clark, executive director of the Ontario Prospectors Association, said the announcement removes some of the uncertainty for his members because they have been bracing for measures to protect the boreal forest.

Gillian McEachern of Forestethics said it is the “largest conservation commitment in Canada and raises the bar for environmental protection across this country and around the world.”

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