Thunder Bay

Environmental group rejects takeover of Experimental Lakes

A Thunder Bay city councillor wants environmental groups to take over the Experimental Lakes Area — but one of the groups he's named is throwing cold water on the idea.

Thunder Bay councillor wants environmental groups to manage Experimental Lakes Area

Scientists set-up a raft with one of a series of micro-meterological stations on one of 58 lakes in the Experimental Lakes Area. Scientific projects could die on the vine because of cuts to the federal Fisheries Department, university researchers say. (ELA/Handout/Canadian Press)

A Thunder Bay city councillor wants environmental groups to take over the Experimental Lakes Area — but one of the groups he's named is throwing cold water on the idea.

Federal government support for the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario is set to expire by the end of the month and there's been no announcement of any deal for another operator to take over the project.

Value of research over time

A researcher giving a lecture at Lakehead University Friday night says the Experimental Lakes Area has been an excellent site to study environmental change.

The biology professor at Queens University said he and his colleagues have learned a lot from the ELA, such as how metals, acid rain and climate change affect lake ecosystems.

"When you do that in a whole-lake experiment, you can actually see that on a whole-lake ecosystem," John Smol said, noting that similar research "is much harder to do … in flasks ... in laboratories."

Smol added it's critical to study how ecosystems change naturally, to see how humans affect them and how to fix the resulting problems.

Thunder Bay councillor Larry Hebert said it's time for groups such as Greenpeace or the Sierra Club to get involved.

"Why haven't they come to the fore? It is important, and I don't disagree with that, but if it's that important let them … put their money where their mouth is," he said.

The executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada said it's not a significant cost for the federal government to keep the ELA open. However John Bennett said his group’s budget could not support it.

Bennett added that said environmental organizations need to be advocates, not researchers.

"We need to separate the two functions so that we can … take the information that's produced by neutral academic sources … to the public and to government," he said.

Hebert said he plans to raise his idea for discussion at next week's board meeting of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association.

"The federal government wants to get out of supporting it, that's fine, but wait 'till we have a buyer, or a supporter," he said. "That could be the provincial government or … the environmental groups. We haven't heard from them. Where are they in this?"

Bennett agreed that someone — or some group — needs to step up. Support needs to be continued and increased, he said.

"In a country like Canada with a million lakes, it's really essential that we really understand the environmental dynamics of what happens in those lakes," he said.

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