At last Monday’s Committees of the Whole meeting, councilors were presented with a letter from Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Bill Mauro.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

Thank you for your letter regarding the location of the southern boundaries of caribou ranges in northeastern Ontario. It was a pleasure to meet on May 6, 2015, to discuss this issue.

Caribou ranges in Ontario were delineated to include areas where caribou currently exist, as well as areas nearby where we expect caribou to return as habitat becomes suitable. This is consistent with how other jurisdictions have defined ranges across Canada. We have listened to northern communities and, based on caribou ecology, have adjusted the southern boundary of caribou ranges near Hearst to exclude development. The boundary is now several kilometres north of Highway 11 from east of Kapuskasing to west of Hearst.

Future range boundary evaluations will consider new information obtained through population surveys, assessments of population health, animal movement patterns and seasonal habitat selection along with changes to habitat that may result from climate change.

The collaring data represents movement patterns within the area where the animals were collared. These animals do not represent the entire population or distribution of caribou within Ontario or within a range.

Ministry staff continue to support local forest management planning teams as they balance goals to create solutions that support the conservation of biodiversity, caribou and the forestry sector.

Ontario is committed to meeting the needs of the forestry industry and will work with all stakeholders to ensure that forestry remains a successful and sustainable industry in northern Ontario.

Thank you again for writing.

“The letter is not only vague, but it’s just a repeat of information from a year-and-a-half ago,” said Kapuskasing mayor, Alan Spacek. “Originally the line was going to start at Hwy. 11 go north and they’ve only moved it a few kilometres north.”

Spacek said he is very disappointed by the Minister’s response, saying the repetition and vagueness of the information contained revealed no progress from the discussions northern municipalities have been having with the government regarding the caribou policy.

“Our biggest concern is that the letter has a definite tone of finality to it,” said Spacek. “We’re concerned we’re going through all of this effort of gathering scientific data and lobbying to find out the government has already made a decision based on influence from environmental groups.”

Spacek said First Nations groups, who were part of a meeting held earlier this month with FONOM members and representatives of Northern Quebec centered on the forestry industry, were equally disillusioned with the current state of affairs.

“They’re upset with the government’s actions on this with regards to environmental groups dictating where forestry should and shouldn’t occur. It’s important to note this isn’t about preserving a species. There are over 2.5 million Caribou in Canada and they are talking about re-introducing the species to an area, where they haven’t been habitating for over 50 years.

“All economic activity aside, there is still the issue of climate change. We know species like deer are coming north and they can’t cohabitate with moose and caribou. It’s really disheartening.

Spacek relayed a notion that one First Nations community in Northern Ontario is actually considering a caribou hunt.

“It is their belief that the caribou straggling around are area are leaving the heard and going away to die,” he said. “The First Nations people think that it’s good to harvest these animals for their meat since they have become weak and are no longer part of the heard.

“First Nations clearly indicated to us that they don’t believe environmental groups are speaking accurately on behalf of the species or the environment in general and they also clearly stated to us that they have been the keepers of the land for thousands of years and that they resent environmental groups dictating lifestyle to them.”

Spacek said the topic will once again be discussed at the upcoming, multi-minister AMO meeting, where community representatives will once again have the opportunity to speak directly with Ministers of different sectors of the government.