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Environmental assessment granted: precedent concerns industry.

Forest industry officials are watching for the results of an environmental assessment (EA) of timber cutting near Megisan Lake, northeast of Sault Ste. Marie.

Tourist camp operator George Nixon succeeded in getting the assessment from the Ministry of Environment after claiming that the cutting would devastate his business - Megisan Lake Tourist Outfitters. The hearings will begin in November.

Three companies will be directly affected by the assessment's outcome. Lajambe Forest Products Limited and St. Marys Paper Incorporated, both of Sault Ste. Marie, and Pineal Lake Lumber Company of Chapleau have all been forced to find alternative sources of wood since the EA was enacted, banning logging operations in the 55,000-hectare area of dispute.

The three operate the Ranger Lake, Peshu Lake and Superior Forest Crown management units.

Nixon took action after logging was planned to a ridge about 1.5 kilometres west of his camp. Other companies had similar plans from the south, east and north.

While the cutting would not be visible from his camp, Nixon claimed it would be heard, as well as seen from the air.

Clients are not very happy with the logging operations, says Nixon. Ninety per cent of his clients are business people attempting to escape from the concrete jungle.

"They're in some high-pressure, stressful jobs and like the remote experience," he indicates.

Nixon originally proposed that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) create a three-kilometre buffer zone (55,000 hectares) around his lodge and restrict road building to protect the area's aesthetics and wildlife. The proposal was turned down.

"My own personal opinion is that the MNR and timber companies are in bed together," Nixon comments. "They are saying 'No, because we are dedicated to the mills.' They are saying 'Here's what we are going to do, and that is that.'"

Nixon claims that he is not opposed to timber cutting, but he does oppose the "carte blanche" they are given over the land.

"It's a business that should continue to operate, but there are a number of forestry companies that are becoming greedy," he says. "If forestry companies don't have the sustainability, then the forests are gone forever.

"I am worried about protecting something for the future. It's not just the tourist operators and the forest companies' lands, it's everybody's."

Nixon maintains that the buffer zone he requested represents only between one to three per cent of the total land base (of the agreements).

After being turned down Nixon appealed to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for help.

The ministry approved his request for an environmental assessment despite the fact that logging within the area had been approved by Natural Resources.

It was also given despite the existence of the Class Environmental Assessment for Timber Management on Crown Lands in Ontario. The Class EA, now in its fifth year, has given the public, particularly environmental groups, an opportunity to scrutinize and question the province's forestry management practices.

"The Class EA has taken longer than was expected. The act does have a provision in it for individual environmental assessments, and for this situation the committee recommended that the only way that this will be solved is to do an individual EA," explains Derek Doyle, director of the environment ministry's environmental assessment branch:

At the same time 11 requests for similar assessments were turned down by the minister.

Nixon, however, convinced the ministry that his views had not been heard during the public hearings which led to the approval of the local timber management plan, explains Dave Wray, the project manager for the Megisan Lake area environmental assessment.

In his fight Nixon has gained support from the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association (NOTO) and the Ontario Federation of Naturalists.

NOTO research analyst Jim Antler says his association's main concern is that timber cutting threatens to take away the remote quality of fly-in tourist operations.


"Those tourist operators command a high price for those remote trips, and there is a real need to protect those businesses," Antler says. "As timber cutting has branched away from the mill you have pressure on those remote tourist operations. The more access to a lake, the more the fishing is pressured there. We've taken the position that those areas need buffer zones."

"When you look down from the air, you see someone who is being hemmed in from all sides by cutting," adds Marion Taylor, the chief environmentalist with the Ontario Federation of Naturalists.

NOTO is also fighting for compensation for tourist operators who are affected by timber cutting.

"Once people get into the lakes, we can't sell that as a remote location. That sort of thing is bad for our industry. In some cases it has caused closure of sites. When this happens, the MNR has to give you a new site. We want to see stiffer fines (for logging company infractions) which will go to operators looking to build a new site," explains Antler.

NOTO is meeting with members of the MNR's district office to discuss its concerns.

Doyle believes that a provincial land-use policy would help solve the problem.

"What we are faced with now is trying to develop a solution before this policy is developed. I have no doubt, by doing an EA (on Megisan Lake), that it will help other timber management plans," says Doyle.

However, Wray disagrees.

"I don't think a (provincial) land-use policy could be specific enough to solve this. What we have here is a disagreement by tourist operators about district priority for remote tourism. In terms of that area, there are district land-use guidelines," he concludes.

Wray is concerned that the Megisan Lake case could set some precedent. For example, he says it is possible that people will continue to apply for individual assessments if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the province-wide Class EA.

He explains that it was the ministry's intention to have the Class EA establish the rules for forest management, thereby reducing the need for individual assessments, except when closer examination of a specific geographic location is required.
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Title Annotation:Forest industry
Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Hospital officials concerned restructuring lacks planning.
Next Article:Panel lays foundation for forest-use policy.

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