Manitoba and Ontario joined forces Tuesday to protect a 9,400 square-kilometres swath of wilderness that straddles both provinces.
But environmentalists said the move is more a bureaucratic one that does little to prevent mining and logging or to protect woodland caribou.
“Basically, they’re pushing the caribou out of Manitoba,” Eric Reder of the Wilderness Committee said. “This announcement only says the two provinces will work together. Right now there is nothing new being announced.”
Manitoba’s Natural Resources Minister Stan Struthers said the move is a significant step towards nominating the area as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The protected area includes Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and the Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve in Ontario and Atikaki Provincial Park and parts of Nopiming Provincial Park in Manitoba.
“It justly deserves this type of attention,” Struthers said.
Struthers and Ontario Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield also said the partnership is the first in Canada between two provinces to manage such a large wilderness area from logging, mining and other development. First Nations communities in the area are also involved.
Cansfield said a benefit of the partnership is that officials from both provinces now have a better means of studying woodland caribou as the animals move across the provincial boundary.
“It’s truly one of the last wild spaces on the planet,” she said.
The partnership also strengthens Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s recent announcement that his government would permanently protect 225,000 square kilometres of that province’s northern boreal forest.
Struthers also said the signing of an agreement between the two provinces coincided with Manitoba releasing its management plan for Atikaki Provincial Park and the Bloodvein Canadian Heritage River. That plan is another step required as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.
However, Reder said the new partnership does not add any new wildlife protection measures to Manitoba.
He said if Manitoba was serious about protecting the caribou, it would have included more land under the new wilderness area, including where the caribou calve in the northeast corner of Nopiming park. That area remains at risk to logging despite a 1992 report stating it should be set aside from any development, he said.