A Toronto-based environmental group is claiming mining exploration in the Ring of Fire has already caused damaged to the Far North's ecosystem.
The Wildlands League, which is a not-for-profit charity, released a series of aerial photos on Monday showing some of the exploration in the Ring of Fire area. The photos were taken last March when the group was heading to a First Nations community for a visit. One of the photos was of Esker Camp, which is about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, as well as some of the camps that were once held by Cliffs Natural Resources and a runway.
The group claims that the photos challenge the idea of early mining exploration having little impact to the area.
Anna Baggio, the director of conservation planning with Wildlands League, said they have shown the pictures to First Nations advisors and government officials including the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and all have been surprised by what they have seen.
"People haven't really grasped what's been going on in the Ring of Fire, even with early explorations," she said. "I don't think anyone has released images like that before. We were surprised because of the line cutting and drill pads were quite extensive. They kind of stretched as far as the eye could see."
Baggio explained they couldn't go over the entire 500,000 hectares and examine the 3,000 mining claims that make of the Ring of Fire. Based on what they saw, Baggio said they want a regional environmental assessment.
"What you notice about the landscape is that it is immediately clear," she said. "The vegetation is cleared and what you are also seeing is lines being cut through the landscape. So they are changing the landscape and that's disrupting the landscape. Because this is the Hudson Bay lowlands, it is a cold, wet environment . . . the potential for restoration is quite low. We're afraid these impacts are going to end up being there for a very long time."
She added that they aren't against mining or development but they want to make sure there is a thoughtful planning process so everyone knows where roads will go and how they will protect the environment.
Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle in an email to The Chronicle-Journal stated the province supports "smart, sustainable and collaborative" development in the Ring of Fire adding they are aiming for a balance between environmental protection and resource development.
Gravelle mentioned the modernization of the Ontario mining act and its mandatory new regulations that require resource development to move forward in a way that minimizes the impact its has on the environment.
"My ministry, along with the Ministries of Environment and Climate Change and Natural Resources and Forestry, are continuing to collaborate with our First Nations partners to collect early baseline data in the Ring of Fire region prior to any development," Gravelle said in his email.
"This information will help us better understand potential impacts and can inform the environmental assessment currently underway. The Ring of Fire has tremendous potential to spur economic development, create thousands of jobs and significantly strengthen Ontario's and Canada's economy for years to come."
He explained the framework with all nine Matawa-member First Nations will help guide negotiations for long-term regional environmental monitoring in the region.
"This regional long-term environmental monitoring would be in addition to any monitoring required as part of the environmental assessment or other regulatory approval," he added.