‘Lands for Life’: a tragic conclusion?

By Fern and
Carolyn Pelletier
Stratton, Ont.

Conflicting interests have bogged down the “Lands for Life” process and made consensus of its round table members impossible.
Environmentalists hold up the international standard for protection, which is defined as no logging, mining, or hydroelectric development, and point out that we cannot establish a parks system based on the fragments left over after all other interests have been considered.
The forest industry, facing shrinking resources globally, is reluctant to relinquish any of its potential “fibre basket.” It is therefore stonewalling attempts to fulfill the government directive to complete Ontario’s system of parks and protected areas in a way that has ecological significance.
For example, as part of its conservation reserve mandate, the BWRT has recommended a total of 68,000 ha of bog and peat land. Although one cannot deny the intrinsic value of wetlands, in Boreal West most require no formal protected status because they are of little interest to industrial or commercial development. It would appear that the recommendations focus on quantity at the expense of quality.
For purposes of waterway park and wilderness park designation, eight site regions in the Boreal West area have been identified as target areas for protection. According to Ontario Provincial Park policy, each site district requires a waterway class and a wilderness class provincial park. However, as the result of entrenched opposition by major sector interests, it is being claimed that there is no room to consider either designation in the vast area bordered by Highway 17 to the north and Highway 502 to the east, and the Manitoba-Minnesota border to the west.
Although industrial and commercial interests are central to local economies, values critical to the quality of life northerners cherish are in real danger of being sacrificed.
Anglers and hunters fear that their right to hunt and fish in the pristine wilderness areas of the province is threatened by both tourism and environmental interests. This perceived threat has fueled animosity on the part of some toward the tourist industry, which is accused of protecting its turf at the expense of the general public, and to environmental interests, which are perceived to be controlled by “southerners” who, it has been said, “want to turn all this part of the province into a park” for their own use.
A backlash of vocal, disgruntled individuals who want unlimited access are attempting to stir up public support in order to undermine the efforts of the tourist industry to protect its land base. Misinformation helps to fuel the fire.
It is being claimed that the designation “conservation area” or conservation reserve” means a ban on hunting, fishing, camping, and boating in those areas. This is simply not true. Conservation reserves exclude logging, mining, and hydroelectric development. All other uses are permitted, including bait fishing, trapping, and established tourist operations. In fact, conservation reserves may benefit anglers and hunters, allowing their activities while banning development which could at some point shut them out.
Those who espouse “general use” (multiple use of resources) should realize that the same areas to which they wish unlimited access stand to lose their best qualities if inundated by thousands of hunters, anglers, and recreationists from across Ontario and Manitoba. Approval of the “general use” concept also could open the door to commercial development of cottage lots on Crown land. While this type of economic development does benefit local business, it must be realized that the natural environment that is so attractive to cottagers cannot coexist with uncontrolled development.
Local stewardship, as has been suggested, if implemented without strict provincial guidelines, could be disastrous. A strong voice on a community committee from development-minded individuals could open the door to uncontrolled commercialization. One need only look to the experience of Wisconsin and Minnesota, whose once pristine shorelines now more closely resemble suburbia.
To ensure a secure future in the Boreal landscape, major forest companies are asking for “perpetual tenure” on all Crown land that is not specifically allocated for protection through the “Lands for Life” process. As part of the agreement, which would guarantee it cutting rights forever, if the government changed its mind, it would have to buy the land back from the industry.
This demand from industry being discussed behind closed doors has not yet been put on the BWRT for public debate–perhaps because of a fear that public backlash could adversely affect the strength of the forest sector’s present position.
Being introduced for consideration is the repatriation of private land which is not being used for productive purposes, in order to provide industry with more land base for intensive silviculture. While on the surface this idea may have appeal, farming communities might want to consider the implications a little more carefully. What it could mean, in effect, is that farmers (and indeed the public at large) may at some not too distant time find themselves competing against multinational forest companies for land.
In view of current research regarding the use of hemp fibre as an additive in paper production, and the potential economic benefit to agricultural communities, would it not be wiser to safeguard arable land for agricultural use?
The general public is still largely in the dark regarding the real issues and what is at stake in this unprecedented transfer of public land to industry. No effort has been made to involve the younger generation., which will inherit the results of the decisions made today–for better or for worse. The voice of the MNR, the official steward of our natural resources, has been conspicuously silent with regard to the recommendations being made by the round table.
Finally, what is the position of our elected representatives on this process, which will determine the fate and future of our Crown lands in Ontario?
We fear that the “Lands for Life” process may come to a tragic conclusion unless all those who do care about preserving our natural heritage take time to find out about the real issues–and get involved before it is truly too late!