Northwest First Nations protest provincial Woodland Caribou Conservation Plan: Red Rock Chief won't be 'force-fed' conservation plan that jeopardizes development, threatens communities.

Author:Ross, Ian

The province's rollout of a woodland caribou recovery strategy in northwestern Ontario threatens the gains made by First Nations in natural resource development, said the chief of the Red Rock Indian Band.

Matthew Dupuis and a group of protesters took to the road to hand out information pamphlets on the Trans-Canada Highway at the Nipigon Bridge on May 29.

They take issue with Ontario's Woodland Caribou Conservation Plan to create corridors for woodland caribou that they say is potentially devastating to communities and industry along the north shore of Lake Superior.

Despite the change in provincial government, Dupuis said Queen's Park continues to push the caribou recovery strategy, particularly at the forest management planning level, in an effort to change the "landscape of this area and how it's managed."

The Red Rock Indian Band is leading the fight against the caribou strategy. The band hosted a town hall meeting of the research they've gathered and its potential socioeconomic implications and presented it to an audience of 200 in Nipigon on May 10.

The meeting has since enflamed First Nation and community leaders on the north shore.

Dupuis believes the government's strategy is to clear away all industrial and recreational activity to create "potential caribou rehabilitation in an area where there is no caribou."

The agenda, Dupuis said, is being pushed by Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) managers at the regional planning level.

The attempt is to create natural corridors--"safe passage" said Dupuis--to connect herds on two distant ranges in the Far North and those planted by the MNRF along the shore of Lake Superior many years ago.

To accomplish that, Dupuis said, they'll need large undisturbed areas that will result in forestry roads being closed and Crown wood allocations being slashed, which will have downstream impacts on area forest products mills. It will also affect mining operations and powerline planning.

"Anything that falls within those areas is now going to be in jeopardy."

Dupuis said since area First Nations have never been consulted on this policy, Indigenous directors elected to walk out of a May 23 planning meeting with the MNRF to show their frustration with Ontario's Woodland Caribou Conservation Plan.

The Red Rock Indian Band and three other First Nation bands sit on the board of directors of the management company that holds the Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) on the Lake Nipigon Forest, an area...

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