(An open letter to Nathalie Des Rosiers, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.)

AS NORTHERN, grassroots organizations, academics and concerned citizens who have been advocating for environmental and social justice across Northern Ontario, we are dismayed by the recent portrayal that the economic interests of the forestry industry are the “voice of the North.” This has been particularly true during the ongoing debate over the declining state of boreal caribou.

In reality, many people in Northern Ontario understand the impacts that industrial logging, fragmentation, and degradation of our forests has on northern species and their habitats. We hope you understand there is a diversity of local perspectives when it comes to managing public/territorial lands in the North.

We need to live within environmental limits. Boreal caribou are one of the most researched mammals in Canada. Federal law requires, and science supports, the protection of critical caribou habitat. This protection requires that no more than about one-third of each caribou range be “disturbed” at any given time. We are surprised and concerned that, despite the flexibility of this approach, the most vocal industrial logging interests continue to reject it. This compromise is still risky for caribou.

We understand that there are limits to the level of industrial development that our environment can endure, and sincerely hope that as the minister of Natural Resources and Forestry you share this understanding.

Reconciliation is about more than jobs.

Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is crucial to our shared future. It will require developing a joint pathway forward to address the legacy of impacts on health, education, child welfare, environment and economy. Addressing economic disparity through sharing the benefits of industrial development can be one part of reconciling inequalities.

Abundant populations of species are also necessary to support treaty and Indigenous rights. We must recover plants and animals that have been lost or are declining through colonialization as part of restoring our shared stewardship responsibilities.

Limiting the industrial footprint to one-third of each caribou range may help to protect other Indigenous rights and responsibilities, including the harvesting of forest foods and medicines. The impacts industrial logging can have on these values are well understood by local people.

The interests and aspirations of Indigenous peoples across Northern Ontario are diverse, and we hope as the minister you will appreciate and respect that diversity.

Most people in Northern Ontario know that logging levels in forests that overlap with caribou range are, in many, if not most cases, far below their allowable levels. Forestry industry associations claim that less than 0.5 per cent of the forest is harvested each year. We think this should allow for ample opportunity to develop caribou range plans that protect critical habitat and maintain a sustainable forestry sector.

We want to see the recovery of boreal caribou and of other species in decline. We don’t agree that the forestry industry, their lobbyists and supporting organizations represent our perspectives on this issue. We hope that you, the minister, will consider our perspectives, and others, when consulting with “the North.”

Julee Boan, Ontario Nature, Thunder Bay

On behalf of Paul Berger (Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet), Thunder Bay; Dave Euler, Echo Bay; Jim Johnston (Friends of Algoma East), Elliot Lake; Rita Komendant (Bear With Us), Thunder Bay; Leo Lepiano, Michipicoten First Nation; Brennain Lloyd (Northwatch, Northeastern Ontario); Peter Becket (Sudbury Naturalists), Sudbury; Brian McLaren (faculty of natural resources management), Thunder Bay; Teika Newton, Kenora; Lana Ray (Council of Canadians Thunder Bay Chapter) Opwaaganasiniing; Marg Reckhan (Penokeans Hills Field Naturalists) Elliot Lake; Christian Schroeder (Lake Superior Caribou Concerned Citizens) Wawa.

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