Ontario Parks Threatened by Land Plan

The Harris government's Lands for Life program is more trick than treat.

by Mike Buckthought

The day before Halloween, the Harris government's Lands for Life program released its final report. More trick than treat, the report is a scary and often contradictory document that recommends opening up Ontario's forests to intensified logging, mining, and hunting. It rolls back environmental safeguards and does little to advance the cause of aboriginal rights.

The curious concept of temporary parks: now you see 'em, now you don't.

Most Ontarians probably hadn't heard of Lands for Life before, though the report calls it a "bold experiment in citizen participation" which "should help the government fulfill its commitment to complete Ontario's system of parks and protected areas."

I looked this up in my Newspeak Dictionary. By "citizen participation," they mean poorly publicized hearings, conducted by round-tables hand-picked by the Minister of Natural Resources. The round-table members were, of course, representative of the population, which would seem to consist almost entirely of white, middle-aged men, prospectors, and hunters.

This "bold experiment in citizen participation" was given just over a year to hold public hearings and figure out what to do with 46 million hectares of public lands, encompassing almost half of Ontario. That is an area the size of the Yukon, and larger than many countries.

Due to unrealistic time constraints, one of the round-tables didn't have time to consider two-thirds of the public's comments. And the final report contains draft recommendations, without the benefit of the additional public consultation that the round-tables and the public had originally expected. So much for citizen participation.

According to an opinion poll conducted last year, 82% of Ontarians support protection for Ontario's remaining wilderness areas. But only 0.6% of the Lands for Life area would be protected in new provincial parks. An additional 1% would be "protected" in conservation reserves, but these could "allow mineral exploration where compatible with reserve values," which "may proceed to mining."

The rest of the land falls under new land-use designations called stewardship reserves, enhanced management areas, heritage waterways, Great Lakes heritage coastlines, and general use areas. All of these would allow for logging, mining, mineral exploration, hunting, or hydroelectric development.

And then there is the curious idea of temporary parks. Recommendation 14 says the government "should evaluate the concept of 'floating reserves' for its potential application to completing the parks and protected areas system. In this concept, sites could rotate over time between protection and appropriate resource extraction and uses." In other words, if a logging or mining company wants to clearcut or mine a park, the protected status could be removed. And after the former park has been clearcut or strip-mined, the protected status could be restored.

Lands for Life doesn't offer much protection for Ontario's wilderness, and in fact there might be even less of it in the future. Recommendation 234 says the government "should, where appropriate, dispose of Crown lands to promote social and economic development in the planning areas."

Deer and bears that have somehow escaped all of the logging, mining and mineral exploration going on in this brave new world of multiple land uses still have hunting to worry about. Hunting could now happen on Sundays, hunting seasons could be extended, and the government could "increase the hunting opportunities provided by currently underused populations."

And it seems there aren't enough kids with guns. The report recommends a "hunter safety apprenticeship program allowing youths to begin hunting at age 12 under supervision." The government couldn't wait for this one. It created such a program in August.

The government has also talked about long-term logging agreements that would give corporations control over huge areas of Crown land. Much of this "Crown land" is subject to aboriginal land claims, which have somehow been forgotten in all of this.

Unless there is public pressure, the Harris government could hand over control of Ontario's wilderness to transnational corporations interested in short-term profits. Please write to your MPP, opposition leaders, and the Minister of Natural Resources to express your opposition to Lands for Life.

* Contact: OPIRG-Carleton, 326 Unicentre, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6; ph: (613)520-2757; fax: (613)520-3989; email: opirg@carleton.ca

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[From WS February/March 1999]

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