Originally published on the Wildlands League, 29th June 2015
Based on new photographic evidence of the damaging effect of mining exploration activities within the Ring of Fire even before any mines have been developed, CPAWS Wildlands League is calling for environmental rules to curb the Wild West mentality for opening up Ontario’s Far North.
The photos also challenge the idea of a benign footprint for early mining exploration.
“We’re calling for the Government of Ontario to conduct a comprehensive regional environmental assessment for the area encompassed by 500,000 ha sized Ring of Fire that will provide a blueprint to plan for all the activities that may come to pass within the next decade in this 7 million sized region of Northern Ontario,” says Janet Sumner, Executive Director for the group.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) is currently renewing its 2006 Mineral Development Strategy. It’s identified three key strategic objectives all related to maximizing Ontario’s mineral potential. None of them seem to be about minimizing the impact of exploration on the environment.
Cumulative effects on the environment seem to be a blind spot in the government’s approach, the group states. “The only time cumulative impacts are mentioned in the materials is when MNDM describes the cumulative impact of regulations on industry,” says Anna Baggio, Director of Conservation Planning for group. And with early mining exploration also being subject to the exemptions regulation under the Endangered Species Act it’s tough to see how Ministry of Natural Resources would rein them in either, the group said.
Wildlands League took the photos on March 31 of this year while en route to a local First Nation in the Far North. They wanted to see how things had changed since their last visit to the Ring of Fire in 2010.
“I was gobsmacked. Because it was winter, the contrasts were striking. The areas cleared for the drill pads and trails to facilitate drilling were prolific, and line cutting stretched like grids on the land as far as the eye could see,” Sumner said.
Early exploration projects are often described as drilling just ‘a few holes’ with minimal impacts. Therefore there is not much government oversight or environmental review. This view, Wildlands League says, fails to take into account the cumulative effect of all drill holes and exploration activities by all companies on a specific ecosystem. It also fails to take into account the pace and scale of activities that can often overwhelm ecosystems and communities.
Photo: Paul Loewen
“I don’t think people fully grasp how much activity has happened just at the exploration stage and what is being done to the land here,” says Baggio. “If all the claims were to be developed at a similar level of intensity, it would modify the entire landscape,” Baggio added.
With the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry reporting recently that there have been over 1100 drill holes and almost 3000 claims staked, over 640,000 ha have been disturbed in the caribou range that overlaps with the Ring of Fire. Caribou and other wildlife are sensitive to disturbance and the group is concerned that they are being driven away from these areas. Another challenge is that these mining disruptions on the land are likely to be there for a very long time, evenly permanently in cases.
“Ontario has a significant amount of Canada’s last remaining intact boreal forests and wetlands, which includes the Ring of Fire region. We recognize that resource development is likely to be part of this area’s future, but it has to be planned for carefully, or we run the risk of destroying healthy ecosystems that have for centuries survived with minimal industrial footprints,” says Baggio.