, July 14, 2008 (ENS) - Half of Ontario's northern boreal forests will be protected from unbridled resource development so these trees can continue to fight global warming, under a conservation plan annouced today by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The government of Ontario will extend permanent protection to at least 225,000 square kilometers (86,872 square miles) of the Far North Boreal region under its Far North Planning Initiative, the premier said - an area almost twice the size of England.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (Photo courtesy Office of the Premier)
"Although the Northern Boreal region has remained virtually undisturbed since the retreat of the glaciers, change is inevitably coming to these lands," said Premier McGuinty.
"We need to prepare for development and plan for it," he said. "It's our responsibility as global citizens to get this right, and to act now."
Environmental groups were delighted.
"This announcement sets out the most ambitious conservation agenda for the Boreal Forest in Canada," said Janet Sumner, executive director of The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Wildlands League. "Today's announcement fulfills the premier's promise to protect the boreal forest by doing land use planning before large scale industrial development."
The Wildlands League, working with other conservation groups, has been a strong voice calling on Ontario to protect its intact boreal forest for the past five years, said Sumner, given its critical global ecological value as one of the world's most important remaining stretches of wilderness.
Mining and logging will be permitted in the protected area, but only under stricter regulations and providing that local Aboriginal communities approve.
New forestry and the opening of new mines in the Far North would require community land use plans supported by local Aboriginal communities.
Scientists, First Nations and Métis communities will collaborate to map and permanently protect an interconnected network of conservation lands across the Far North, the Ontario Environment Ministry said in a statement.
McGuinty said his government will work with all northern communities and resource industries to create a broad plan for sustainable development.
The Northern Boreal region makes up 43 percent of Ontario's land mass, but it is home to just 24,000 people living in 36 communities.
To ensure community input, the new initiative provides for a local land-use planning process before development can be approved. Each year, a number of the 36 communities will complete local land use plans. The entire process is scheduled to be completed in the next 10 to 15 years.
Woodland caribou in Ontario's boreal forest (Photo by Liv Vors courtesy Global Forest Watch Canada)
Preserving these spaces will help ensure Ontario's biodiversity, said the premier's office in its statement. Still wild, Ontario's northern boreal region is inhabited by more than 200 species of animals such as polar bears, wolverines, and caribou - many of which are threatened or endangered.
Permanently protecting these lands will help a world wrestling with the effects of climate change, as they are a globally significant carbon sink.
The Ontario government says protecting this region is key to its plan to fight climate change. The forests and peat lands in the Far North store about 97 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide and absorb around 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the government said.
Preserving these lands also protects the core cultural connection of the Aboriginal people who live there, their connection to the land, clean water and abundant hunting and fishing.
Lois Corbett, senior policy advisor to Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen says, "To bring in new resources benefits sharing on the other half of the land for our First Nations communities strikes a new approach that puts those communities at the center of ecological protection and economic development in the future," Corbett said, "instead of forestry and mining companies."
"Our plan will ensure that mining potential across the province is developed in a sustainable way that benefits and respects communities," the Premier's Office stated.
"We will ensure that our mining industry remains strong - but we also need to modernize the way mining companies stake and explore their claims to be more respectful of private land owners and Aboriginal communities. The Ontario government believes exploration and mine development should only take place following early consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal communities."
Ontario boreal forest (Photo by John Wartman)
To ensure that mining practices are up to date in the far North and across the province, the McGuinty government will review the Mining Act, and consultations will begin early next month.The government intends to introduce legislation in the upcoming session and new mining rules would be in place for later next year.
"The commitment to revise the Mining Act is also extremely welcome," said Sumner. "Ontario is now taking a leadership position in Canada on this issue, leaving behind an antiquated law that has no place in our future."
A 2007 survey of logging, road building and other human disturbances in Ontario's northern forests conducted by Global Forest Watch Canada using satellite imagery showed the rapid conversion of forestlands to logging and road building.
The intact forest habitat required by the threatened woodland caribou is being being destroyed, the survey showed.
"We found that over two-thirds of the study area, which is half of Ontario, was likely no longer suitable for caribou habitation. This has serious implications for the survival of this species within much of Ontario," said Peter Lee, executive director of Global Forest Watch Canada.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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