Quetico Provincial Park — Management Plan Under Review

While the plants and animals of Quetico Provincial Park settle in for the winter, the Canadian government at all levels is examining the park’s management strategies and preparing for the years to come. At the Assembly level of government (which is akin to Congress in the United States), new legislation, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, has been passed that not only affects Quetico, but all of Ontario’s parks. At the park level, specific to Quetico, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has undertaken a new Quetico Park Management Plan Review. This kind of legislative and management review is not new, and is in fact vital to the park’s continued existence.

Quetico Park Management Plan

The Management Plan review is a four-stage process that started in the spring of 2006. First, the MNR invited public participation and set out “Terms of Reference,” which can currently be found on the Ontario Parks—Quetico website (www.ontarioparks.com/english/quet_planning.html). The terms of reference describe the management history, provide the rationale for the current review, and outline the planning process. It is an important document because it communicates clearly to the public what is happening to their park. The “invitation to participate” ended this summer, but, as emphasized in the “Terms of Reference,” feedback is welcome during every stage of the planning process. Currently, stage two, the “Opportunity to Inspect Background Information and Management Options,” is underway, and will last through Spring 2007. The next stages will provide opportunities to review and comment on the preliminary and approved plans, with the whole process scheduled to be completed in Fall 2008.

Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act

The Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act was passed in June 2006 to replace the Wilderness Areas Act and the Provincial Parks Act.

The new Act will not be in force, though, until a date declared by the Lieutenant Governor, which can only happen once new “Regulations for Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves” are completed, scheduled for the end of 2006 or early 2007.

Generally, like the Quetico Park Management Plan, the Act is important because it brings the governmental regulations up to date and ensures they are living documents. This Act initially raised the defenses of environmental groups because the original version eliminated the prohibition on mechanized travel from the “wilderness” classification, but that prohibition has since been restored in the final document. An important addition to the Act is the phrase “ecological integrity.” The new Act declares it “shall be the first priority in guiding all aspects of park planning and management,” bringing the parks’ environmental quality to the forefront of legislation and ensuring the concept will be included in future management documents.

Despite these changes, many environmental groups still express concern about the new Act. “Ecological integrity” is a wonderful concept, but the Act does not go so far as to include the “greater ecosystems” that surround the parks and whose activities necessarily affect the environments within the parks. According to Robin Reilly, Superintendent of Quetico Park, it is a complex issue that is being examined by a sub-committee. “From the parks perspective,” he says, “it would be good to have the edgesof adjacent lands managed sympathetically, but from the industry perspective, this is just enlarging the size of the parks.”

Another concern expressed by environmental groups is that the new act permits industrial access roads for logging and mining in the parks. This is a complicated issue, because the act says that roads and trails are permitted to access existing mining or timber claims or such claims outside of the park. Examining the road situation means examining the mining, timber, and electricity policies as well—activities which are strictly prohibited or restricted. Also, the roads are still subject to additional policies and approval by the Minister of Natural Resources. The long and the short of it is that the Act reasserts rules and management that were in place before the Act was passed, so the rules governing Quetico are still in place, and the park is still protected from roads and mechanized vehicles. The status of roads in other parks is particular to each park’s management, but they are subject to Act’s overarching premise: to protect the ecological integrity of parks.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Act does not mandate a “management plan” or even a less-comprehensive “management strategy” for each park—these are regulations that govern the policies specific to a park, like the Quetico Management Plan being reviewed right now. What the new Act does require is a “management direction” for each park. The management direction is to be reviewed regularly, and by virtue of the Environmental Bill of Rights, updates and reports shall be made available to the public. The Act also validates already existing management plans and strategies.

Not requiring a new management plan or strategy, with the requisite public input, risks looser governance for each park, but it does not necessarily mean lax environmental policies. Some parks, like Quetico, are large and well-established with meticulous management plans, plans which are reinstated by the new Act. But other parks are not even operating (parks without facilities, services, etc.), and for these the Act means some minimum of management in the form of direction. At the very least, Superintendent Reilly says, every project in every park must go through an environmental screening, “which for anything other than routine work has a public component. For environmentalists, it is important to realize that the Act is a legislative document to guide policy, but it does not determine the specific management guidelines for individual parks.

The Act’s Impact on the Quetico Management Plan Review­

With the Quetico Management Plan review in full-swing, Quetico will be the first old, large park affected by this new Act, thus, according to Reilly, “what happens at Quetico will shape the interpretation and form of the Act’s implementation.” The Management Plan review is a chance to see how the Act will be interpreted and it will set a precedent for future interpretations. It is an important time to voice your concerns. Comments on the Management Plan can be sent to Robin Reilly, superintendent of Quetico Provincial Park (robin.reilly@mnr.gov.on.ca), or you can become involved with the Quetico Management Plan process by emailing yourcontact information to queticoplan@mnr.gov.on.ca. Americans are
welcome to respond. Comments on the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act should be sent to the Minister of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, at dramsay.mpp.kirklandlake@liberal.ola.org. Updates on all environmental policies can be accessed at the Environmental Bill of Rights website, www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/ebr/english/index.htm.


This article appeared in Wilderness News Fall 2006

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