Historically, the Ministry of Natural Resources has been responsible for the management and stewardship of our lakes and forests. Recently, a business relationship initiated between the provincial government and various forest products’ companies transferred the responsibility for forest management planning from the MNR to the corporate sector.
Recent media reports indicate that Canada’s position as a leader in the field of environmental protection has declined dramatically in past years as a result of government policies allowing self-regulation in industry. This does not bode well for ecological sustainability in our forests.
A revised plan to manage the forest resources of Ontario, called “Lands for Life,” is in the process of being developed to conform with changes in MNR’s core business. This plan will determine how resource use of Crown lands is to be divided among forest products’ industries, tourism, hunters and anglers, mining interests, and parks and recreation.
In the current economic and political climate, the demands of industry can be very persuasive. Its insatiable need for wood fibre is increasing the vulnerability of previously-protected regions to logging operations. Areas which are most vulnerable to expanding timber harvest operations are the sensitive riparian zones, the transitional areas between land and water, containing elements of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Often the most productive environment in the forest, and containing the most biodiversity, they are most susceptible to damage by harvesting and renewal activities unless extreme care is taken.
Research compiled by the MNR, based on studies done in Canada and the northern States, describes the potential impact of timber harvesting operations on the watersheds, lakes and streams, the fish habitat within them, and the birds and wildlife which inhabit and frequent the shoreline. A recent MNR publication, entitled “Timber Management Guidelines for the Protection of Fish Habitat,” documents in detail the negative impact on fish populations of harvesting in riparian zones, and the protective benefits of leaving buffer zones in these sensitive regions.
Other MNR literature cites the value of leaving old forest for the survival of eagles, pileated woodpeckers, and pine martens. Adequate buffer zones around shorelines could ensure an undisturbed habitat for these creatures as the interior forests are logged.
There is a good case to be made for a riparian zone exclusion policy within the forest management plan. With many acknowledged unknowns regarding the effects of even partial cutting of these shoreline regions, it would make good sense, in terms of the implications for tourism, preservation of wildlife and fish populations, and overall spiritual and emotional well-being of the human element.
Our Northern Ontario wildlands increasingly are the envy of the rest of the world, on which the imprint of man rests so heavily. There are so few places remaining where nature can be observed and enjoyed in an unspoiled state, and where man’s spirit can be renewed.
Can we afford to overlook the potential of this unique resource? Must we continue to compromise until nothing remains? Is the temporary material gain worth the cost?
Send your comments to the chair of the Boreal West Round Table, Suite 221, 435 James St. S., Thunder Bay, Ont., P7E 6S8.
Fern and Carolyn Pelletier