MARKSTAY/WARREN – Environmentalists thought it was just a matter of waiting for the largest stand of old-growth red pine forest to transition from a forest reserve to provincial park status.
But a renewed mining license from the provincial government launched a province-wide petition this week to save the Wolf Lake area from future resource harvest.
Leading the campaign is Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner who has just spent a week camping and canoeing the Chiniguchi River System that connects Lake Wahnipitae to the Temagami region.
Photo by Scott Haig. Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner and his wife Sandy Welsh camping on Wolf Lake with towering red pines in the background.
“It is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen,” said Schreiner after coming out of the river system for a quick stop in North Bay. “It is right up there with the premier lakes in Canada. It is on par at least with Lake Moraine in Banff.”
The area surrounding Wolf Lake was deemed a forest reserve about 14 years ago under then-premier Mike Harris’ Living Legacy Program that created 378 new provincial parks and protected areas in the province covering nearly 10 million acres.
A mining license in the Wolf Lake area prevented a full provincial park designation so when it was scheduled to expire last year, many thought the entrenched protection would come. Instead the license was renewed.
“It’s unacceptable that the McGuinty government has failed to protect Wolf Lake 13 years after Premier Harris promised to permanently protect it, and 25 years after Ontario’s forester called for protection,” said Schreiner. “It’s inexcusable that the McGuinty government would renew mining leases in the world’s largest ancient red pine forest.”
Estimates put the old growth forest at more than 300 years old, covering about 2,000 hectares of land.
Schreiner says that pine stands were the natural forest before human harvesting began centuries ago, knocking down vast swaths of the conifers.
“The fact that there’s only 1.2 per cent of the forest left says we have to protect this small piece,” said Schreiner.
He says during his trip with Nipissing Green Party candidate Scott Haig he discovered a red pine forest on a waterway surrounded by high bluffs and large deposits of quartz including one of the best lookouts made entirely of quartz called Elephant Hill.
Haig, a regular camper in the area, says it is a natural for a provincial park designation, with the Chiniguchi River and the Sturgeon River connecting a host of lakes throughout.
“Recreationally it is superb like Algonquin Park with linked lakes that can take you all the way to Temagami forest. It seems almost inevitable that it wouldn’t all become park some day,” said Haig.
But provincial parks and forest reserves have not increased significantly in the past 10 years and Schreiner and Haig hope the process starts again.
Asked if they knew why the mining license in the forest reserve was renewed, Schreiner replied. “We don’t have an answer to that. It appears Premier McGuinty has chosen to put the mining interest ahead of the public interest.”
They both witnessed a winter road pushed through the old growth forest by the mining license holder.
“You do see the ecological impact of just mining exploration,” said Schreiner.
His party has launched a petition that can be filled out online at gpo.ca. Schreiner says he will deliver the results in the fall when Queen’s Park resumes seating.
“It’s an ecological treasure. In a world where the latest smart phone goes out of date in half an hour, it is such a relief to be in a place where you can be swimming in Paradise Lagoon and the waters are so clean and refreshing and you are surrounded by trees that are 300 years old. That’s something I want my kids to be able to give their kids and their kids’ kids,” said Schreiner.
The latest MNR news release about Wolf Lake states, “Retaining Wolf Lake’s Forest Reserve status prohibits the commercial harvesting of old growth red pine while still allowing for exploration and development of existing mining claims and leases.
“An Environmental Registry posting was made in June 2011 to consult on the future use of the Wolf Lake Forest Reserve. The decision to maintain Forest Reserve status is based on the feedback received through the posting.
“Pursuing a balanced approach to development is part of the McGuinty government’s plan to protect the environment and support sustainable jobs for Ontario families for generations to come.”
“Premier Harris promised that Wolf Lake would be a park and we’re asking government to fulfill that promise,” said Schreiner.