By Lara Ellis, Wildlands Leauge
Before and during Ontario’s land use planning process (Lands for Life), the forest industry argued that parks are unnecessary because forest management protects wildlife and wilderness values. Having visited many logging areas in Ontario, we knew this wasn’t the case, but simply stating so wouldn’t change anything – but would just result in a ‘war of words’ that has come to be expected between environmentalists and industry. So we decided that it was important to quantify and collect evidence to present to the government and public that would be objective and show the result of forest management (and therefore the need for parks).
We chose a high profile area to audit–The Algoma Highlands. We had been campaigning for its protection for many years. All the while, the industry had claimed that the area didn’t need protection because they were doing a good job managing it. The audit was carefully done. We, and our partner, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, hired and trained an auditor, who worked with local volunteers. Their work resulted in the documentation of many infractions of the few rules Ontario has to protect streams, rivers, lakes, and wildlife habitat. Our campaign to protect wild areas was able to use the information to counter industry claims that there is no need for parks in the province.
The audit was completed in the summer of 1997 and the report released in 1998. When we released the report we held simultaneous press conferences in Toronto and Sault Ste. Marie. At the press conferences we announced that the high level of non-compliance justified a government investigation. The investigation was carried out by the government and resulted in a series of recommendations to improve compliance and the protection of water bodies to be implemented across Ontario. The report is still available on our internet site (entitled “Cutting Around the Rules”).
What do you consider the key to your success?
The key to the success of the project was that we put much effort into all aspects of it, including the project design, collecting of information, compilation of results, report writing, media outreach, and government relations.
How would you outline the steps in organizing your project to advise another group on a similar project?
One must be meticulous in the collection of audit information, especially if it is to be used in an investigation or legal proceedings. One thing we have done in more recent audits (the Algoma audit was the first) is to use a GPS to mark problem areas. That makes it easier for the government inspectors to relocate the area.
What have been the affects of this effort on your organization’s work?
The success of the Algoma audit lead to later audits (Lower Spanish Forest, Algonquin Park, Temagami). It also gave us a good idea of what rules work and which ones don’t, which has helped us be effective during a process to revisit Ontario’s forest management guidelines and policies.
How has the project affected your community?
The audit helped to raise awareness of the need for protected areas, and to streamline some of the existing forest management guidelines. This will result in better forestry province-wide, and also contributed to the Ontario Living Legacy decision, which protected 2.4 million hectares of land, including the Algoma Headwaters Park Signature Site located near to the areas we audited.
What particular stumbling blocks, challenges, or defeats did you encounter?
This was our first audit, and so we had to be very careful while collecting information and analyzing it. Raising funds for the whole project was also difficult. We had several sums from different sources.
How many people were involved?
If possible, include an estimate of people-hours spent on the various aspects of the project.
Quite impossible with many different facets of project.
How was public involvement motivated and facilitated?
Volunteers were found who wanted to help with the fieldwork.
How was public education a component of your program?
We released the audit report, and also a tabloid that summarized the results and why it is important to protect water bodies and wildlife habitat.
What was the primary means of communication?
The primary methods of communication were the report and tabloid, but also the media. We received excellent local and provincial media coverage from our Toronto and Sault Ste. Marie press conferences.
What resources were available/acquired/tapped into?
Some government funding to hire the auditor, and support from GLAHNF, Mountain Equipment Coop, and the Local Action Fund – WWF Canada for the publications.
What level of media exposure were you able to obtain and how did it affect your efforts?
Coverage in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Sault Star, and Northern Ontario TV and radio stations.