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Northern Ontario First Nation, conservationists seek logging ban on Farabout Peninsula

A First Nation in northwestern Ontario and a local conservation group want a piece of land that extends into Eagle Lake near Dryden removed from future forestry management planning and set aside so it becomes permanently off-limits to logging.

Peninsula extends into Eagle Lake near Dryden, connected to mainland by narrow isthumus

A northwestern Ontario First Nation and a local conservation group want Farabout Peninsula off-limits to potential future logging. (CBC)

A First Nation in northwestern Ontario and a local conservation group want a piece of land that extends into Eagle Lake near Dryden removed from future forestry management planning and set aside so it becomes permanently off-limits to logging.

That comes as the company that holds the sustainable forest licence for the area that includes Farabout Peninsula says it hasn't yet determined how much, if any, harvesting it intends to apply to do on the peninsula within the timeframe covered by the next planning period. Work is underway to develop the next forest management plan for the years 2021 to 2031.

Forest management plans effectively dictate how woodland areas in Ontario are managed, including guidelines around logging, development of infrastructure, like roads, as well as sustainability and renewal.

Eagle Lake First Nation Chief Arnold Gardner told CBC News that Farabout is home to breeding grounds for a large number of species, like moose, eagles and osprey — muskie also reportedly spawn in the area; additionally, the narrow isthmus, or strip of land that connects Farabout Peninsula to the mainland, is home to archeological sites where Indigenous artifacts, like arrowheads and pieces of pottery, were found this past summer.

"It was a very neat find," Gardner said of the artifacts. "To know, to confirm that our people must have inhabited that area in a big way a long time ago."
A narrow band of land connects Farabout Peninsula to the Ontario mainland. On that isthmus, a number of Indigenous artifacts were recently discovered. (Google)

"The historical finding itself, it's really, really excited our people, our elders, our young people," he continued. "We're ... thinking that it's probably an area that was inhabited so if any activity goes on in terms of building a road into that area to log that area, they'll ruin all the artifacts that are below that certain area."

The archeological sites on the land bridge are now protected areas, meaning they can't be disturbed, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, but Gardner said he's concerned about the overall lack of space where the sites are, and that any future operations, even with buffer zones in place, will still do damage.

"We're concerned that [they're] talking about building a road so they can access timber."

The First Nation is due east from Farabout, across a span of Eagle Lake's northeast corner; Gardner said the peninsula encompasses Eagle Lake First Nation's traditional territory.

'If we can't protect something, then we don't log near it.'

The general manager of the company that has the forest licence for the area — Dryden Forest Management Company — said the current forest management plan in place doesn't propose harvesting and none was approved. During the development period for the current plan, which came into effect in 2011, Dave Legg said there were, at one point, proposals for such harvesting but they weren't pursued.

"They've stopped any activity, or even proposed activity, 'cause we were involved," Gardner said.

Legg said the company analyzes how much of a given area can be harvested sustainably in advance of developing a new management plan. That modelling hasn't been done yet for the 2021 plan, he said, but acknowledged that the peninsula is currently listed as a potential area for logging.
Over the summer, archeology teams found several artifacts on Farabout Peninsula. (Dale MacKenzie / supplied)

"We don't know how much ... feasible harvesting operations can or may take place.," he said, adding that the company considers the forest there "prime or just a bit past its prime from a harvesting perspective."

Legg said, in terms of the size of the available timber on Farabout, the peninsula represents "roughly one year's harvest, which could have a big impact on the operation of my company."

He said the company is aware of the archeological sites on the isthmus, as well as other "values" on Farabout that need to be considered during the current planning process.

"There's a couple of rare plants down there, there's all kinds of things going on around there and we're trying to take all those into consideration when we decide to move forward with harvesting, wherever that's going to be," he said. "When we do our forest management planning, we apply protections as much as we can and if we can't protect something then we don't log near it."

Conservationists want permanent designation

Eagle Lake First Nation has long been supported by a grassroots organization called the Farabout Peninsula Coalition, who is advocating for permanent environmental protections for the peninsula.

"All the islands on Eagle Lake are protected ... where they were set aside as conservation islands," said Dale MacKenzie, the chair of the coalition. "The peninsula just missed being an island and missed that kind of protection by about 45 feet."

That's because of the isthmus that connects Farabout to the mainland.

MacKenzie said, in addition to the concerns raised by the First Nation, Eagle Lake is also "a tourism lake."

"It's everybody's back yard."

Planning process underway

The roughly three-year planning process to develop the 2021-2031 forest management plan is underway, said Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, adding that public input and consultation is a key part, although those processes haven't yet started.

She said the ministry is aware of the advocacy for permanent protection on Farabout.

"It's great that they're being out there, continuing to make the public aware and we're very happy to work with them to see what can happen for the next 10-year forest management planning process."
Arrowheads were among the artifacts found on Farabout Peninsula. (Dale MacKenzie / supplied)

MacKenzie said her group will participate in the planning process — a process that she called "really complicated; Chief Gardner said Eagle Lake has made the ministry aware of its position and it continues to speak with Dryden Forest Management.

"They have an opportunity to be partners in sustainability with us," MacKenzie said, referring to the forestry company and the ministry.

Legg said the company's "doors are always open if people have concerns about management of the forest."

"They can always come in and talk to us."