Recent Media Coverage

Ring of Fire circles a flurry of threats

The Chronicle Journal


By Jennifer Baker and Brian McLaren

Over the past two years, there has been a surge in mining claims staked throughout Ontario. The mining boom has even expanded into the James Bay Lowlands region, where more than 2,000 claims were hurriedly staked in the six months following the 2007 provincial election when the Liberal government declared it would re-visit the Mining Act.

Unbeknownst to most Ontarians, there has recently been an escalation in the flurry of mining and exploration activity in the Far North in an area known as the Ring of Fire, some 240 kilometres west of James Bay and north of the Albany River, shattering once pristine habitat.

While the southern boreal forest is severely fragmented, the landscape crisscrossed by roads and cleared for industrial activity, the northern boreal is supposed to be ecologically intact. Moreover, Premier Dalton McGuinty declared in 2008 that at least half of this precious land mass and enormous carbon storehouse would be protected while land-use planning that emphasized sustainable development would guide the future use of the other half.

In the heart of the James Bay Lowlands, a large depression was created when a meteor struck the earth resulting in an unusually high concentration of metals, including nickel, copper and zinc, being pushed close to the surface. Today, exploration and staking activities have reached a feverish pitch with nearly 40 junior and intermediate mining and exploration companies active within the Ring of Fire. These numbers are in addition to the mining and exploration in areas further south and closer to Thunder Bay where rocks influenced by ancient volcanic activity also create mining opportunities when prices are right.

This fall, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., a major U.S. mining company, announced plans to join the frenzy in the Ring of Fire and invest $800 million to build an open-pit mine and facilities to process chromite into ferrochrome, a key ingredient to make stainless steel. Meanwhile, Canada Chrome, a subsidiary of KWG Resources Inc., holds claims in the eastern side of the Ring of Fire and has announced its intention to develop a 200-kilometre rail corridor. Noront Resources Ltd. is ramping up plans for full-scale development that includes building an air strip.

None of these massive projects is subject to a full environmental assessment nor a comprehensive land use planning process. Instead, staking, exploration and plans to build infrastructure are proceeding without any apparent government oversight. This is in flagrant contravention of the Premier's promise to protect this region. There is no public consultation. First Nations communities are not leading the decision making process and there is no acknowledgment of the ecological importance of this remarkable region.

Logging, mining and hydro development were allowed generous access to the southern boreal forest, thereby damaging the integrity of a vital ecosystem. Industrial incursions have taken a toll on wide-ranging mammals such as the woodland caribou and the wolverine, both now designated as species at risk in Ontario. Now, in the northern boreal, development is occurring faster than scientists, naturalists and First Nations communities can record information on sensitive areas, such as eskers or on the fish, birds and other wildlife that live there.

While Northern Ontario needs nature resources, economic opportunities and jobs, it also needs a sustainable natural environment with balanced decisions made through a comprehensive planning process. In Ontario, the provincial government made a choice when it announced it would protect the ecological significance of the northern boreal region, establish protected areas and initiate land use planning prior to any major development decisions. Now it is time to make good on its promise.v Jennifer Baker is Boreal Outreach Coordinator at Ontario Nature; Brian McLaren is President, Thunder Bay Field Naturalists.

Ontario wants to join the state of Michigan's legal fight against Illinois over its alleged failure to control the spread of the voracious Asian carp.

This Friday, lawyers representing Ontario will tell the U.S. Supreme Court the province should be allowed to participate in Michigan's effort to force Illinois to shut locks leading to the Great Lakes in order to stop the invasive fish.

Michigan is seeking an injunction to immediately close the Chicago-area shipping locks to prevent a potential ecological disaster if the carp, which can grow to over a metre long and weigh 45 kilograms, make their way through the waterway linking the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes.

New York , Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio also support Michigan's challenge, which was filed by the office of Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican who is running for governor.

Carp pose a major ecological problem because they eat their weight in plankton and fish, stealing food from others such as Ontario's threatened freshwater mussels. Already, there is genetic evidence the carp have spread beyond an electrical barrier erected in the waterway to keep them out of Lake Michigan.

Opponents say closing the waterway would upset the movement of millions of tonnes of iron ore, coal, grain and other cargo.

On New Year's Eve, Ontario filed a motion supporting Michigan's case. On Friday, the court will start examining everything submitted in the case and decide whether Ontario can participate. Michigan's motion is to close the navigational locks in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal permanently.

"This is a highly invasive species," said Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield. "It can decimate the commercial fishery."

Ontario has one of the world's largest commercial freshwater fisheries, the primary catch being perch, with $150 million in direct business annually, said Cansfield.

"They could potentially be a big problem," said Mark Carabetta, conservation manager at the environmental group Ontario Nature, pointing to two other invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes - the sea lamprey and the zebra mussel.

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