Clearcutting will elevate mercury poison in fish
“Grassy Narrows – Grassy Narrows First Nation is calling for a thorough environmental assessment of the newly approved plan for clearcut logging on their Territory – an important test of Ontario’s environmental laws. Grassy Narrows is concerned that the planned logging could harm the health of their families by raising mercury poison levels in local fish. The logging plan makes no mention of mercury, even though Grassy Narrows Territory is the site of Canada’s most infamous case of mercury poisoning arising from 9,000 kg of mercury that was dumped into a local river by a paper mill upstream in the 1960’s. Scientific studies indicate that clearcut logging in the boreal forest can raise mercury in fish to unsafe levels.
“Ontario has ignored our voices, and is planning to force more devastating clearcuts on our people,” said Joseph Fobister, a Grassy Narrows hunter and businessman. “Our people will become even more sick if the government knowingly allows the logging industry to poison the fish that we eat.”
Grassy Narrows’ request is an important test of Ontario’s environmental laws. Logging plans in Ontario are generally exempt from Environmental Assessment, but concerned people and groups can request an Individual Environmental Assessment (IEA) of a plan if they believe that environmental and human health are not being protected. Such requests have almost ever been granted.
“Grassy Narrows’ request will either set a precedent as one of the first logging plan subjected to an Individual Environmental Assessment in Ontario, or it will expose a glaring gap in the application of Ontario’s laws to protect our health from the harmful impacts of industrial activity in our forests,“ explained Amber Ellis, Director of the grassroots environmental group Earthroots, which is supporting Grassy Narrows in this request.
On December 23rd the Wynne government quietly approved plans for another decade of clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows Territory against the will of this Indigenous community. The Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan 2012-2022 plans for dozens of large clearcuts on Grassy Narrows Territory, some nearly the size of pre-amalgamation Toronto. This logging will further erode the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of the community which depends on the forest to sustain their families and to practice their culture through fishing, hunting, trapping, medicine harvesting, ceremony and healing for all generations.
The formal request cites scientific literature indicating that clearcut logging raises mercury levels in fish to dangerous levels. One study found that 100% of walleye and pike in clearcut lakes had mercury levels above the limit for safe human consumption.
Premier Wynne visited Grassy Narrows in the summer of 2012 as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, saying that she wanted to rebuild Ontario’s relationship with Grassy Narrows to “get it right.” Instead Ontario has unilaterally pursued this clear-cut logging plan against the will of the community and without consent.
The Supreme Court of Canada will hear Grassy Narrows’ case against Ontario on May 15, in a legal action which argues that Ontario does not have the right to unilaterally permit logging on Grassy Narrows land north of the English River due to promises made by Canada in Treaty 3.
The new logging plan takes effect on April 1.
Grassy Narrows is the site of the longest running native logging blockade in Canadian history – an ongoing grassroots action that recently celebrated its 11th anniversary. Grassy Narrows youth, elders, women, and land-users put their bodies on the line to stop logging trucks from passing.
Logging in Grassy Narrows Territory has largely been suspended since June 2008 when Boise and AbitibiBowater (now Resolute) bowed to the pressure of protests, blockades, boycotts, and legal actions by ceasing to source wood from Grassy Narrows Territory without consent.”
The Council of Canadians remains committed to standing with the people of Grassy Narrows.
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