Intervenor: Vol 23. No 4 October - December 1998

Lands For Life Or Lands For Lumber?

The L4L programme is a comprehensive land use planning process which will ultimately determine the fate of wetlands, wildlife, old growth forests and other resources located on 4.6 million hectares of Crown land-approximately 45% of the Ontario land base.

On October 30, 1998, the Roundtables' 242 recommendations were publicly released for a perfunctory 30-day comment period. Rather than propose progressive reforms aimed at conserving biodiversity, the L4L recommendations largely entrench the status quo and leave most of Ontario's public lands open for business. At the conclusion of the 30-day comment period, the L4L recommendations were forwarded to the Ontario Cabinet, which (at this writing) has the fate of Ontario's public lands in its hands.

L4L Recommendations on Wilderness

The Roundtables recommended less than 1.6 % of additional land be protected, and many of the proposed protected areas are less than 100 hectares in size. Similarly, no new wilderness parks, and no expansions of key existing wilderness parks (eg, Killarney, Kisagami and Woodland Caribou) were recommended. The net result is that over 90% of the L4L planning area remains available for logging and other industrial activity.

To camouflage this reality, the L4L recommendations propose a new set of "protective" land use designations (eg, "Stewardship Reserves", "Enhanced Management Areas", "Heritage Waterways", and "Great Lakes Heritage Coastlines"). The problem, however, is that these new designations all permit industrial activities, including logging and mining. Yet another recommendation would permit mineral exploitation within conservation reserves. Incredibly, another recommendation even proposes the establishment of "floating" reserves in which the protected area designation would be rotated among different lands over time.

These and other L4L recommendations leave Ontario unable to meet international, national and provincial commitments to conserve biodiversity through parks and protected areas. The recommendations also have to be viewed in the context of the MNR's recent 40% staff reduction and multi-million dollar budget cuts.

The Public Interest in Public Lands

The goal of the L4L programme was to allocate public lands for wilderness, remote tourism and industrial uses. If these lands are managed on a. sustainable basis, then present and future generations of Ontarians will continue to enjoy the ecological, economic, social and cultural benefits associated with Ontario's public lands.

However, all these benefits cannot be produced at the same time, on the same geographic unit of land. For example, if certain lands are designated for intensive forestry operations (eg, roads, clearcuts, herbicidal treatment), then those lands may be unavailable for alternative or sequential uses (eg, eco-tourism., old growth habitat, roadless areas) for very lengthy periods of time.

Because of the long-term nature and impact of public land allocations (eg, forestry leases will now be negotiated for 80 years), it is absolutely necessary for the L4L programme to get it right the first time. To participate in the L4L process, a number of Ontario's leading environmental groups formed a coalition known as the "Partnership for Public Lands" (the Wildlands League, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and the World Wildlife Fund). This broad-based coalition produced a detailed set of ecological objectives which were developed to guide land use decisions under the L4L programme.

For example, the Partnership and its supporters called for:

  • the designation of 15 to 20% of public lands into protective categories (eg, parks, remote wilderness, roadless areas), where mining, logging and hydroelectric development would be prohibited;
  • special operational restrictions for protecting and managing old growth forests, wetlands and wildlife, and;
  • the establishment of policies and programs (including transitional funding) to achieve community stability and diversification.

These and other proposals were well-supported in public opinion polls, and were strongly endorsed by numerous participants who made presentations to the Roundtables. However, the resulting L4L recommendations failed to incorporate, or reflect these widely shared views.
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Rick Lindgren is a lawyer at CELA

Editor's Note: As this edition of the Intervenor heads to the printer, Premier Harris has held out the figure of 12% as a kind of compromise for the amount of land that would finally be protected. Write, fax and e-mail the Premier, encouraging him to go for 15-20% and to take another look at the Partners' recommendations for sustainable growth in the north.