A road to explore?

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A registered undertaking with the Department of Environment and Conservation to construct an 11-kilometre access road to explore for minerals in the heart of the Avalon forest adjacent to Salmonier has raised a lot of public concern because of its effects on caribou habitat, salmon river headwaters and remote cottage country.

Perhaps it is convenient that a private exploration company is willing to assume costs to construct a resource road into an intact landscape because the subsequent ownership will be assumed by the government. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) always has other agendas, and these likely include clear-cutting of forests under the auspices of “salvage” and “silviculture.” As they say in Newfoundland, “Once the road goes in there, then that is the end of it.”

How many roads are enough?

In Newfoundland, DNR maintains over 8,000 kilometres of resources access roads, mostly put in place to provide access for forestry operations. Back in 1984, communities in Salmonier opposed the construction of a forest access road into Kirk’s Ridge. Sawmillers preferred to access the area by traditional skidder trails but were refused. Government officials continue to tout that the resource cannot be managed without a road down the middle of it. Locals see it very differently.

In Newfoundland, once resource roads are constructed, litanies of illegal activities follow, especially the construction of cabins because people know that once they’re constructed, the government will eventually provide permits to occupy.

The legislation to prevent this lacks clout, and there is a lackadaisical approach to illegal occupancy of Crown land. Conventional “cottage developments” by Crown Lands division have turned into costly real estate cul-de-sacs rather than much else. Once illegal cabins proliferate, a lobby of owners forms to secure their investments.

Resource access roads become access points for recreational uses and provide off-road entry points into landscape that was formerly remote, notably remote sections of salmon rivers. Besides piles of garbage and abandoned vehicles, these are entry points for invasive plants, such as coltsfoot, that is now blanketing native vegetation and spreading fast.

In 2004, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) of Canada developed the National Boreal Standard, the international environmental certification of the forest industry. It recognized that the creation of access, notably by resource roads, has detrimental effects on wildlife, plants and the forest ecosystem in general. Proponents applying for FSC certification must compile a formal access management plan.

The FSC elaborates: “This indicator is intended to address the role that access and linear disturbances play in fragmenting forests. Through mechanisms such as providing transportation corridors for predators and exotic species, and creating impediments to migration and local movements (of plants and animals), the effect of linear disturbances can far exceed their proportional presence in the forest.”

Many groups gave input into hearings in 2011-2012 concerning the development of the (seriously overdue) NL 2013 Sustainable Forest Management Strategy.

Among concerns were the control of and unabashed need for road access because managers often fail to understand the ecological and social implications of networking remote landscapes with roads. It would be helpful for the DNR itself to seek FSC certification as this would obligate them to take access management seriously. In Newfoundland, there is no land-use planning, and resource access roads show up in ad hoc fashion, treated in isolation to cumulative effects, and lack policy direction.

Recent scientific studies in Newfoundland show that caribou selectively use old conifer stands lacking an industrial history, and that these stands are different than mature forest regenerated from logging.

The long-term viability of caribou, and rare tree lichens, are dependent on intact old-growth boreal forests, which means they lack an industrial footprint.

It is not that caribou will not use clear-cuts or roads but rather that the rates of depredation on them escalates as result of predators, like coyotes following the linear features gridded through the landscape. In land-use planning, science-based decisions can be reached ensuring critical habitat is maintained, and industrial development optimized or concentrated in areas already altered from the primeval state.

Primeval forests and intact landscapes have largely disappeared from vast areas of Eastern Canada under the sway of industrial development, and Environment Canada has concluded that this is the most plausible explanation for the disappearance of woodland caribou from much of its historical range.

Here in Newfoundland, we are still blessed with significant remaining tracts that sustain woodland caribou and rare tree lichens that are indicator species of unique biological diversity.

We need a clear land use policy on resource access roads if we are to end the plague of ad hoc resource development.

So, let’s keep the horse in front of the cart.

Ian Goudie, PhD is an environmental scientist living in Salmonier, St. Mary’s Bay

Organizations: Department of Natural Resources, Forest Stewardship Council, Crown Lands division NL 2013 Sustainable Forest Management Strategy Environment Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Eastern Canada

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  • Don II
    March 27, 2014 - 19:47

    This is another prime example of the behind the scenes and behind closed doors discussions, land use planning and project promotion that goes on regularly between politicians, bureaucrats, town councils and corporate promoters or lobbyists. They get together and plan their projects and deals in secret and then announce what they have already decided to do a short time before deadlines are imminent for anyone to object or complain about what these folks have already decided to do. The Government knows that there is not much organized opposition and just preparing to obtain information through Bill 29 in order to file credible objections to highly questionable projects will take weeks or months and the deadline will be long past. It appears if there was some way to avoid publishing the environmental assessment application for the public to read and comment on, the Government would do so in order to keep their behind closed doors plans secret until the bulldozers started rolling through the woods. In any event, it won't matter if the project is advertised for public comment and objection, even if the public or environmental groups object, the Government of Newfoundland will just affirm the approval they have already agreed to for the construction of access roads through pristine forest land. It is likely a done deal! As a former bureaucrat told me recently: "Inside the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador money talks while the public squawks." There is no open, honest, ethical and transparent Government operating in Newfoundland and Labrador at the present time.

    • Opponents of Big Triangle Pond Resource Road
      March 29, 2014 - 09:10

      DonII, I could not agree more. We have to change government to a government that will respect our natural resources and environment so we have something left for future generations. So far The PC's have not even gotten back to us, Mr Kents office.... no reply.......Mr French......No reply.

  • Cashin Delaney
    March 27, 2014 - 08:23

    I like to keep Descartes in front of the horse. The horse was an evil nearly eradicated by the hydrocarbon fuel producers and automobile sellers. Only nostalgia keeps these volumous street polluters in fashon still. "Once illegal cabins proliferate, a lobby of owners forms to secure their investments. " These illegal squatters may be the only people who really enjoy the place responsibly, ironically, save a few bad apples that sprout everywhere, like coltsfoots, in every town. I have yet to see a long letter like this addressing Muskrat Falls with such BIOTASCOPE vision. I like it. Again, we see the sanctioned utility' of Muskrat, and the ad hoc 'futility' of a gold mine. If we put Arthur M. Young and Buckminster Fuller ahead of de cartful of grids and planes we work under and inside, we could properly evaluate these projects beyond the yin/yang of Attorney General/TreeHugger. As flow systems as defined in Dr. Adrian Bejan's constructal law. People need to live. People need something to live in. Al Chislett is not in court (held over until Jan. 23/2015) for dumping effluent in A. Bay. The people of Mud Lake are pretty good indicator of biodiversity and an indicator of our almost anarchistic past, our survival. Speak for them Ian, then get after the murderers of lichen! Again, get rid of provincial gov't is part of a solution. Let scientists deal with municipalities without the baggy-eyed middlemen&women clawing for power.

    • Joe
      March 27, 2014 - 08:50

      Does Ray Guy have a twin?

    • Tired of this guy
      March 27, 2014 - 10:04

      Delaney, you write a lot of words, but you never really say anything. You complain that nobody stands up for the things YOU care about, and then you crap on those people for standing up for things THEY care about. Instead of wasting your time crapping on Ian for standing up for what affects him, why don't you get off your lazy ass and write the long letter that you want to see addressing Muskrat Falls? But I suppose its easier to crap on other people than it is to actually do something to make a difference.

    • DCF709
      March 27, 2014 - 11:37

      "These illegal squatters may be the only people who really enjoy the place responsibly, ironically"... Speak for yourself please, you have no idea how many people who actually use the land in a responsible (and legal) manner. The squatters are the ones using it irresponsibly.

    • Cashin Delaney
      March 27, 2014 - 17:47

      1. We are 500,000 on an area fit for millions, picking on "squatters" is silly. You are all squatters to someone's grandfather. 2. I am lazy, that's why I try to find easy-flowing solutions and not reinvent the wheel or build air castles. My latest theory is eliminating provincial gov't system. They have done the heavy lifting themselves. Just need to boot them out an let Municipalities thrive in Canada. 3. The rest of my rhetoric and stupidity is aimed at inspiring a debate about what the prov. would like to remain apples and oranges. Avalon VS Labrador. Money, like vitamin C, can come from many things - gold, hydro. In the end, something gets poisoned unless communities are respected. "In land-use planning, science-based decisions can be reached ensuring critical habitat is maintained, and industrial development optimized or concentrated in areas already altered from the primeval state." This implies constructal law based on the work of Adrian Bejan. That is all. If you are tired of me, you are really tired of your own mind's reaction to my words. I'm not crapping on Ian, I am as sincere as a non-entity can be. BIOTASCOPE vision is something we should all aspire to, but it doesn't reduce to kicking out illegals or ascribing them predicates. DCF709 admits we don't know who uses the land, so we assume everyone uses it. Like Muskrat Falls area. "The squatters are the ones using it irresponsibly. " Maybe a descendant of Peter Kerrivan can cut the roads so that a Coyote can't understand where it all goes, only Al on his GPS. That way also, the squatters can flee to avoid capture after Wayne Bennett gets elected and throws them all in jail! Ending the farce of prov. gov't is the only way to save the lichen, and turn the squatters back into regular people in municipalities, and not free-range, ad hoc, landfill producing, rare lichen stomping deviants!

  • Opponents of Big Triangle
    March 27, 2014 - 07:50

    This is a great peice Ian, I hope Minister Shea and the provincial government will listen to the people using this area in its curren state.