Eco heads are tickled green that the McGuinty Liberals will be sparing the Boreal forest of northern Ontario - at least a good chunk of it anyway - from axe, saw. [rssbreak] And those annoying mining companies staking any piece of dirt they can get their greedy little hands on.
The announcement was featured prominently on the front pages of Toronto dailies Monday (July 14). Better than a biscuit with your morning espresso.
The sheer size of the proposed protected area, 225,000 square kilometres, an area 1.5 times the size of the Maritimes the Globe points out, seems mind-boggling.
According to Gillian McEachern of ForestEthics, which has been pushing for Boreal protection, the Liberal promise amounts to the "largest conservation commitment in Canada and raises the bar for environmental protection across this country and around the world."
We'll put aside for the moment the obvious fact that these same Liberals have allowed gaping holes to be torn into other so-called protected areas.
Among them: the Oak Ridges Moraine, about which, inexplicably, talk of plans for a major commuter airport just won't go away. And the Greenbelt, on which the government has allowed native burial grounds and important natural corridors to be crisscrossed by newer and bigger highways.
Let's be clear. The Liberal's protection plan isn't banning any and all kinds of development on Boreal lands. Some 6,000 mining stakes already litter the region, according to ForestEthics.
Mining and forest companies will have to seek permission from affected native groups first, as well as offer a slice of the profits from any project proposed. That doesn't seem like much of a check on profiteers given the desperate economic straits native groups find themselves condemned to in this province - especially those 20,000 or so inhabiting the remote regions of the Boreal.
But we digress.
The more profound question that should be asked: is designating protected areas and declaring them off-limits the best strategy for forest conservation?
Once the government defines what areas are off-limits, they're also clearly spelling out what's fair game for resource companies.
So, in "protecting" half the boreal, the Liberals have emphatically flung the door open to development on the other half.
For those areas there will be absolutely no protections - save for government assurances of plans for sustainable development.
In the past, similar promises of "sustainable development" have threatened ecological or economic disaster.