GLOBE Foundation

Ontario to protect northern boreal forests

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Source: GLOBE Foundation

The Government of Ontario has announced plans to protect at least 225,000 square kilometres of the Far North Boreal region under its Far North Planning initiative.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in making the announcement noted that scientists, First Nation and Métis leaders will collaborate to map and permanently protect an interconnected network of conservation lands across the Far North. The government will work with all northern communities and resource industries to create a broad plan for sustainable development.

The move has won the praise of Dr. Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, who noted 'Ontario’s commitment to set aside half of its Boreal Forest helps ensure the long-term integrity of a vital ecosystem. This is truly a conservation milestone.'

As well, local plans will be developed in agreement with First Nations, and new mining development in the Far North would require early consultation and accommodation with local Aboriginal communities. A review of the Ontario Mining Act is also planned.

Ontario’s Northern Boreal region is one of the last truly wild spaces on the planet and one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems. It is home to over 200 sensitive species of animals - such as polar bears, wolverines, and caribou - many of which are threatened or endangered. Preserving these spaces will help ensure Ontario’s biodiversity, notes a Backgrounder released by the government.

Permanently protecting these lands will also help a world wrestling with the effects of climate change, as they are a globally significant carbon sink. Protecting this region is also a key part of the government’s plan to fight climate change. The forests and peat lands in the Far North store about 97 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and absorb around 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Although it is 43 per cent of Ontario’s landmass, the region is home to just 24,000 people living in 36 communities. Most of these people are First Nations, living in remote communities far beyond the end of Ontario’s road and infrastructure network.

What is being protected?

Scientists have said that in order to preserve a healthy ecosystem in the Far North, a minimum of half of the land be protected while allowing carefully managed sustainable development in remaining lands. The Ontario government will be protecting more than 225,000 square kms - or more than half of the Northern Boreal lands - in an interconnected network of conservation lands.

Priority will be given to protect lands with key ecological features such as habitat for endangered species or important carbon sinks. These lands will be permanently protected through the Far North planning process. Activity on these lands will be restricted to tourism and traditional Aboriginal uses. 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.

As part of a broad strategy to rebuild relationships with First Nations communities in the region, the government will establish a new system of Resource Benefits Sharing and will consult with Aboriginal communities immediately on ways to provide greater economic benefit to Aboriginal communities from resource development.

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