Thunder Bay

Feds must 'step up' to help experimental lakes program

Ontario's pledge to help save the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario is welcome news to scientists.

Proponents of research program say summer activities need to be given the green light

The Experimental Lakes Area was established in 1968 and is located approximately 50 kilometres southeast of Kenora, Ont., in the Lake of the Woods watershed. (ELA)

Ontario's pledge to help save the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario is welcome news to scientists.

But the founder of the Coalition to Save the ELA, Diane Orihel, says it's only the first step as the province enters talks with the federal government, Manitoba, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg to figure out a long-range plan.

And Ottawa has yet to step up, Orihel noted.

"Let's not over-react," she said. "This is a very, very big announcement. But the pressure needs to continue because these are, at this point, pledges and promises and we have to make sure this happens."

The ELA in northwestern Ontario has been shut down since Ottawa pulled its funding last month.

Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer congratulated Ontario and Manitoba for giving the Experimental Lakes a second lease on life.

"It was extremely gratifying to see the Ontario and Manitoba provincial governments step up to the plate to take on responsibilities abandoned by the federal Harper Conservatives," said Hyer in a press release.

"I fully expect the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to work and negotiate in good faith to see that a hand-over of the facility takes place with minimal disruption. Given the announcement, there is no reason why scientists cannot now be allowed to return to the facility to continue their research over the vital summer field season."

But Orihel said it's also unclear whether scientists will be able to work at the northwestern Ontario site over the summer.

"It's wonderful that Ontario has stepped up to the plate. But what this really does is it puts pressure on the federal government to step up to the plate to do their part," she said.

ELA is a public research program that gathers scientific evidence for the development of effective public policy, management strategies, and stewardship activities to ensure the health of Canada's freshwaters and fisheries.