Feature article January 27, 2005LAND O' LAKES NewsWeb Home
Protected Areas -- What Protection?
by Gray Merriam
In Ontario, the Provincial Parks Act dates back to 1954 and is ineffective in terms of our current social values. This ancient act does not reflect any knowledge of what is now recognized as natural capital or natural wealth. It also does not incorporate any of our current knowledge of ecological processes operating at the large, landscape scale. Dalton McGuinty made an election promise to rewrite and update this old act. But so did Mike Harris and nothing happened.
There is strong pressure from resource extraction companies to leave the act as it is because under it they are able to explore for minerals, start new mines and extract timber from our provincial parks and other areas protected by the act. Thus timber harvesting continues in Algonquin Park and the logging roads supporting that harvest penetrate much of the park area and the traffic of trucks along them impact the 'protected' area in many ways.
Under pressure from the aggregate industry, the Ministry of Natural Resources makes every effort to make gravel and other aggregates available for building and road expansion. They seldom say 'no' to an application, and even when they do, the applicant can reapply forever. The Mellon Lake quarry site was originally inside a 'Conservation Reserve' until the boundary of that reserve was moved to allow the 'mineral sampling' and potential quarry to proceed. It has not yet been approved because of strong local opposition but additional reapplications are still possible.
The lack of protection in 'protected areas' is not confined to Ontario. In Nova Scotia a series of 'protected' coastal areas has been threatened by removal of their protected status and actual proposals for housing developments in the formerly 'protected' areas.
In the Northwest Territories, the Canadian Zinc Corporation would like to profit by extracting zinc from within the watershed of the Nahanni Park Reserve. In Alberta, the Cheviot Coal Mine open pit right on the border of Jasper National Park would degrade the protection within the park because there is no buffer zone to keep such impacts far enough away to protect the parks.
The current social values that should be safeguarded in 'protected areas' are reflected in a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision concerning a large wildfire related to logging operations by Canfor, a large forestry company. The Court held Canfor responsible to the Province of B.C. for the full ecological, environmental and social value of the forest's natural resources, not just the market value of the lost timber. Sierra Legal Defence, a non-profit group, supplied the legal talent that won that decision.
There are valid questions about what we should protect and how much but those questions can't be approached sensibly in Ontario until the Provincial Parks Act is updated to reflect current social values and scientific knowledge. Now is the time. Let the Premier and your MPP know your thoughts.