Minister optimistic regarding gaining co-operation to protect endangered animals

By John Nagy
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Thunder Bay, Ont. — In the words of Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister David Piccini on the possible problems of reintroducing endangered caribou to different areas in Northwestern Ontario, “Ultimately, there would be nothing more embarrassing than moving caribou just essentially serving up a caribou buffet to wolves.”

That was one of the comments spoken by the minister after holding a caribou roundtable along with municipal leaders, university researchers, foresters and conservation authorities to highlight the second day of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association conference on Thursday in Thunder Bay.

Piccini announced last month that the provincial Progressive Conservative government will spend $29 million over a four-year period to support caribou habitat restoration, protection and conservation activities such as monitoring, research and new protected areas.

The provincial minister had hoped to have his federal counterpart, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, in attendance to discuss the caribou issues, and Piccini has invited Guilbeault to meet several times, only to be rebuffed so far.

“Where (the province and federal government) differ is there’s a lack of understanding and acknowledgement on the leadership work that’s already been done here in Ontario, you heard it from all the shareholders (Thursday),” Piccini said. “Even if there was a disagreement fundamentally, federally, you’ve got to be at the table, you’ve got to be here to have that discussion and they’re not unfortunately.

“I’ve been calling on them to sit at the table with us, to sit with the communities, First Nations, Indigenous nations that will be affected in the forestry sector, the mining sector, the Northern municipalities.

“I’m confident that we can work together. We’re already very close with a number of different communities and (First Nations) on agreements. I’m very optimistic, notwithstanding the very real concern for a protection order.”

Wendy Landry, mayor of Shuniah and president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, who is also a member of the Red Rock Indian Band, said a protection order for the caribou can lead to a vast ripple effect.

“What we want to make sure what we’re doing is not shutting down forestry roads, access roads, not shutting down any of those areas that provide tourism,” Landry said. “If they have to close some roads in order to protect or reintroduce caribou, then you’re hurting all activities. Never mind, as others were saying, the forest industry.

“If we’re going to keep our forestry industry in and they put in a protection order, it shuts down activities of that area. You can’t hunt there, you can’t access the roads to get into a lake that’s there, the guys that are working in the bush have only limited places they can do their cutting because you don’t want to disturb (the caribou).

“That’s why it’s critical because they can’t just take the caribou and plunk them into an area that potentially they haven’t been before and expect them to survive and not affect the other animals in the area.”

Landry also said protection orders can also hinder the hunting of moose in the region, the lifeblood of many Northwestern Ontario and First Nations’ residents.

“As First Nation Peoples and Indigenous Peoples, (moose) is our food, that’s how we feed our families,” Landry said. “If that is threatened, then we have a problem when we’re messing around with nature.

“It’s not that we’re saying we don’t want to protect the caribou, we just want to have a say in how we do it.”