ONTARIO'S LANDS FOR LIFE PROCESS
Appeal to the International Scientific and Academic Communities
THE ISSUE: An Ontario government land use planning process called "Lands For Life" is about to make a decision on how much land to permanently protect across a landbase spanning 45 MILLION hectares (an area larger than California or twice the size of Britain), 40 million hectares of which is PUBLIC land. ALL LAND not protected will be tenured to the forestry and mining industries.
A final consolidated report prepared by public roundtables dominated by industry representatives was released on October 30, 1998. The government has now given the public only 30 DAYS to respond before it makes its final decision!! The report recommends that only 1.6% of this land base be added to the protected areas system (6.6% is currently protected). The remaining 92% of this massive area will be made available to the forestry and mining industries who are currently seeking legal tenure agreements that will last in perpetuity.
Despite the fact that a primary goal of Lands For Life was the completion of a representative protected areas system, the Round Table report fails to do this.
***What is Needed From the International Scientific and Academic Communities***
We are requesting that scientists who share our conservation concerns in this urgent situation sign on to and help circulate the STATEMENT OF CONSERVATION CONCERN to the Government of Ontario. To assist you in deciding whether to sign the Statement, we have provided a Summary and Backgrounder that provides you with greater detail on this issue.
To sign on, please e-mail or FAX your NAME and INSTITUTIONAL AFFILIATION to Kevin Kavanagh at World Wildlife Fund Canada. A response by November 30th would be most helpful.
We URGE you to forward the statement of conservation concern to other colleagues and request that they, too, add their names to this statement. e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org FAX: (416) 489-3611
*What we plan to do with the statement and signatures.*
We will coordinate and facilitate the presentation of the statement to the Ontario government and the media at a briefing to be held in early December, 1998. We will also use the list of names to advise the Ontario public of the strong support from the scientific and academic communities for increasing the amount of protected lands in Ontario.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ONTARIO'S LANDS FOR LIFE PROCESS
The Ontario government launched a massive land-use planning exercise called Lands For Life in February, 1997. Covering a land area of nearly 40 million hectares (an area twice the size of Britain or equal in size to the entire state of California), this process was mandated to achieve three primary goals: (1) complete Ontario's system of parks and protected areas, (2) recognize the land use needs of resource-based tourism and (3) provide greater certainty on the intervening landscape for the forest industry. Later, other resource goals were added to explore enhanced opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, and consider the land-use needs of the mining industry.
On October 30, 1998, the Ontario government publicly released a consolidated report from three Advisory Round Tables concerning allocation of public lands in this large area. In addition to proposed land use designations, this report includes 242 recommendations to the Ontario government. Currently, 6.6% of the planning area is protected from major industrial activity through national and provincial parks and conservation reserves. The report recommends that an additional 1.6% be added to the protected areas system for a total of 8.2%, leaving many natural regions without significant protected areas. The provincial round tables themselves admitted failure to achieve parks targets.
Among the 242 recommendations to the provincial government, are recommendations to:
- Permit mineral exploration and mining in conservation reserves;
- Permit logging in conservation reserves;
- Consider deregulation of areas protected for natural heritage values if there is found to be existing mineral potential
- Consider completing the parks and protected areas system using "floating reserves"
The forest industry is seeking long-term tenure for those public lands not permanently protected as provincial parks or conservation reserves. The forest industry is on record as requesting that it be granted compensable tenure in perpetuity across a majority of the land base. Draft reports by industry and the provincial government have advocated tenure in perpetuity.
The joint conservation science team of the Partnership For Public Lands (World Wildlife Fund Canada, Federation of Ontario Naturalists and the Wildlands League, a chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) believe that these recommendations fall far short of long-standing commitments to move towards completing a protected areas system in Ontario, and threaten biodiversity conservation in Ontario and Canada. Further, this set of protected areas decisions will likely be the last that can be made before all remaining lands are handed over to the forest and mining industries.
A coordinated public response is needed from the scientific community that rejects the Round Table recommendations and encourages the Ontario government to permanently protect at least 20% of these public lands to better meet the Lands For Life goals related to biodiversity conservation and maintaining the ecological integrity of the landscape.
ECOSYSTEM CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PLANNING AREA
General Description of the Study Area
The Lands For Life Planning area covers approximately 46 million hectares of Ontario stretching from the Quebec border westward nearly 1,500 km to the Manitoba border. Nearly 40 million hectares are publicly owned "Crown" lands and represents the area directly impacted by the Lands For Life decision-making process.
Much of the planning area consists of hilly topography characteristic of the Canadian Shield. Towards the northeast, the topography becomes much gentler in the ancient lake-bed clay belts and the James Bay lowlands. The entire area was glaciated and soils are often thinly deposited over acidic bedrock, although their are large areas of deeper alluvial, fluvio-glacial and lacustrine deposits.
Mixed hardwood forests stretch from southern Georgian Bay east to the Ottawa valley and west to the eastern shores of Lake Superior. Here are found some of the most extensive old-growth white and red pine stands remaining in the world. Places such as the Lower Spanish River, Temagami and the Algoma Highlands contain significant stands.
As one moves northwards through the planning area, forests transition into mixed hardwood-boreal forests and finally, boreal forests and northern wetlands that extend from the James Bay lowlands along the Quebec border westward to the Ontario-Manitoba border. Wild fire was historically the dominant force of forest renewal in the boreal forests of the area. Fire suppression is now practiced throughout the planning area, even in most protected areas. Fortunately, in some of the larger protected areas, discussion of fire management is now beginning to occur.
A diversity of wetland types, including fens, bogs, marshes and forested swamps are distributed throughout the planning area. Aquatic systems are also well represented, and extensive and diverse shoreline communities are present along the north shore of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior.
Current Status of the Landbase
The majority of this land base has already been accessed for industrial development, principally forestry. Of the 46 million hectares, only 40 roadless areas are larger than 20,000 hectares . A few of these are protected in existing national and provincial parks but most are vulnerable to the rapid encroachment of industry.
The widespread nature of human impact across Ontario's landscape was referenced in the most recent annual report (April 1998) from the environmental commissioners office, where it was stated that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) should use the "precautionary principle".when it establishes the extent and size of land designated to protect Ontario's natural heritage features (recommendation #9). In other words, protected areas should tend towards larger rather than smaller sizes. The ecological integrity of the intervening industrial landscape across the planning area is a major concern of conservation biologists in Ontario. The methods used by the MNR to select large, representative protected areas assume that large sizes are not required in the planning area since the good forest industry management practices in the surrounding landscape can support and conserve Ontario's biodiversity. The above notation by Ontario's environmental commissioner and additional evidence presented below regarding industrial land management suggests that this a dangerous assumption.
Most of Ontario's wildlife species are still present, but significant contraction and fragmentation of the ranges of several large-bodied animals are well documented. Eastern cougar and wolverine are believed to be virtually extirpated from this entire planning area. Gray wolf populations have contracted across the southern portions of the planning area. Within the past year, genetic studies of wolves in the eastern portions of the planning area have shown that these are, in fact, red wolf populations that were thought to be extirpated in the North American wild. The range of woodland caribou has retracted significantly northwards with remaining populations are centered primarily within and around existing protected areas.
Populations of most wildlife species are not consistently monitored by the Ontario or Canadian governments. This is evident from the report of the Auditor General for Ontario that was issued in early November, 1998. With respect to the MNR, which has a mandate to manage wildlife, the report stated that "the Ministry had t developed proper effectiveness measures to assess.success in achieving sustained development of the province's fish and wildlife resources and lacked the information necessary for identifying areas requiring corrective actions." The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's Annual Report for 1997/98 assessed the Quality of Reporting - Wildlife Inventory Databases as "poor". For example, the report stated that "MNR manages a [black] bear hunt which harvests about 7,000 bears annually.
Although MNR has put out news releases estimating the Ontario bear population at 75,000 to 100,000 individuals, the ministry has not publicly released any reports on bear population numbers."
A lack of enforcement of sustainable industrial activities. It has been clearly documented that the Ontario government is not effectively monitoring or enforcing sustainable use of the province's forest resources by industry. In October, 1998, the Ontario court of appeal upheld a February, 1998 decision brought forward by environmental groups against the government of Ontario that it was in violation of its own Crown Forest Sustainability Act. The judges condemned the government for failing to abide by its own requirements to provide for the habitat needs for sensitive wildlife species such as American marten and pileated woodpeckers (both of which succeed best in areas with mature forests.) The government was also found in violation of planning requirements necessary for the long-term sustainability of the forest.
Recent reports prepared with the participation of the forest industry and senior MNR management have advocated long-term tenure on public lands for industry, in fact suggesting that compensable tenure in perpetuity would be desirable.
Where we are at today?
Contrary to the precautionary principle, the Lands For Life Round Tables have suggested only slight increases to Ontario's protected areas system, and have used points consistently raised by industry representatives to support their position. Present forest management and Round Table recommendations suggest the following erroneous assumptions about conservation biology:
X Ecologically representative protected areas that are off-limits to commercial forestry and mining are not necessary to conserve biodiversity. The only protected areas that are necessary are very small sites to protect unique or rare values (such as heronries, eagle nests, shorelines of coldwater streams etc.)
X Industrial manipulation of forest cover under increasingly intensive harvest regimes will mimic natural disturbance patterns over the entire forest landscape.
X Modern/current industrial harvest methods duplicate fire, insect outbreak, wind throw and disease.
X Industrial clearcutting will perpetuate high quality wildlife habitat.
X Landscape, species, genetic and stand structural diversity will be maintained through large area clearcutting, (the harvest method used in 95% of forest harvesting in Ontario (MNR Annual Report, '94-'95)
X Secondary impacts of logging such as a permanent road access network, over fishing, over hunting and erosion are not thought to be significant negative impacts on biodiversity.
X Industrial uses such as mining and large scale hydo-electric development have insignificant impacts on biodiversity.
X It was recommended that the total landbase be available to industry and that the concept of floating (or rotating) reserves be used to complete the protected areas system. This designation involves creating a park, and then removing it if industry requires it for logging or mining operations.
In keeping with these opportunistic, unsubstantiated claims, the Round Tables recommended the following new protected areas as a percentage of the total planning area:
Proposed new Provincial Parks 272,385 ha. (0.6%)
Proposed new Conservation Reserves 430,506 ha. (1.0%)
Total: All areas 702,891 ha. (1.6%)
This includes 72 Provincial Parks and 199 Conservation Reserves for a total of 271 areas with an average area of 2,257 ha. More than a dozen proposed parks in one of the planning regions are smaller than 100 hectares.
Other Disturbing Aspects of the Round Table Recommendations
Five members of the Round tables refused to sign the recommendations. Their letters and reasons for not signing were excluded from the consolidated report released on October 30th. The only reference to their concerns is found at the end of Section 2.5 where they are referenced as "exceptions to consensus". Although it is not stated, the reason that several of the members did not sign is because the Round Tables did not keep to their mandate to complete a protected areas system.
There are no recommendations to increase the level of protection standards for provincial parks or conservation reserves, only to weaken them.
The Round Tables admit that they failed to achieve the goal of completing the parks and protected areas system (Section 6.1) as required by the Provincial government.
The Round Tables admit that they failed to identify areas that will be used for intensive or enhanced forestry.
Included in the 242 recommendations to government are the following additional issues of conservation concern:
It is recommended that protected conservation reserves (like the Ranger North old growth pine area in the Algoma Highlands and the Kaladar Jack Pine Barrens on Highway #7) be made available for mining.
It has been recommended that commercial trapping be used to "control populations and combat disease" in provincial park wilderness zones and nature reserves.
It is recommended that the lakes in parks be intensively managed to produce more fish for anglers.
It is recommended that hunting be "enhanced" in conservation reserves through "proactive habitat and game population management."
We hope that this brief summary has provided you with sufficient background information to add your signature to the Statement of Conservation Concern. For more information, please contact:
The Partnership For Public Lands
The consolidated Round Table report is available from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website: www.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/lfl
Senior Manager, Conservation Science
Endangered Spaces Campaign
World Wildlife Fund Canada
90 Eglinton Ave. East, Suite 504
M4P 2Z7 CANADA
(416) 489-4567 ext. 262 (Tel)
(416) 489-3611 (FAX)
David L. Brown
Department of Biology
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Canada K1N 6N5.
Tel: (613)562-5800 (ext. 6340) or 562-5729
Donald F. J. Hilton e-mail: email@example.com
Department of Biology phone: (819) 822-9600, ext.2362
Bishop's University FAX: (819) 822-9661
Lennoxville, QC J1M 1Z7