Ontario's Ring of Fire project to develop northern mineral deposits threatens world's largest ecologically intact area of boreal forest, claim conservation groups, call for regional environmental assessment, involvement of First Nations
THUNDER BAY, Ontario
June 19, 2014
– Planning tool unites stakeholders with a focus on sustainable, collaborative development
With the Ontario government poised to spend $1 billion to promote development in the Ring of Fire, a new paper from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada and Ecojustice identifies risks inherent in the current planning legislation and provides a solution.
Ontario’s Far North is the world’s largest ecologically intact area of boreal forest. It contains North America's largest wetlands, is home to a number of at-risk species, including caribou and lake sturgeon, and is a one of the world’s critical storehouses of carbon. First Nations depend on these systems for food and medicines, sustenance of culture and spiritual values, their livelihoods, and rights. At the same time, the remote region contains potential world-class deposits of minerals that offer economic opportunities.
“Getting it Right in Ontario’s Far North: The Need for Strategic Environmental Assessment in the Ring of Fire (Wawangajing)” points out that the current planning approaches in the Far North are piecemeal and narrowly focused on specific projects, or pieces of projects. Because of this, cumulative ecological and social effects, planning for regional infrastructure (roads, transmission lines, and railroads), and regional coordination, are not properly considered.
In identifying risks associated with the current planning approach, the authors noted that:
“Adopting an R-SEA planning process is a way of building consensus around where, when, and in what form development is appropriate as opposed to our current processes that ask communities - social and ecological - to bear the long-term impacts of new development,” said Cheryl Chetkiewicz, Associate Conservation Scientist with WCS Canada.
In their report, the authors make the following recommendations to the Ontario Government:
“We have a chance to get things right when it comes to development in this intact, and culturally and ecologically important region,” says Chetkiewicz. “We need a planning process that is equal to the scale and complexity of the challenge, rather than continuing to depend on piecemeal efforts that put wildlife species and human communities at higher risk in the face of global pressures like climate change and a race for resources.”