Wilderness and Recreational Values

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“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

- Henry David Thoreau

The “wildness” that Thoreau talks about is the wilderness that Earthroots seeks to preserve in the remnants of the highly modified landscape of Ontario. Thoreau taught that wilderness had value to the human spirit that was important if not essential. And, although most of us now live daily urban lives that are detached from that spirituality, many of us still have wilderness encounters at points in our lives that give us a profound connection to those spiritual values.

Perhaps for perspective, we should consider what Ontario was like in Thoreau’s time. The province was mostly forested from the shores of the lower Great Lakes to the tree line at the edge of the tundra in the Hudson Bay basin. The great agricultural clearing of southern Ontario was just barely underway. Great flocks of passenger pigeons numbering in the billions filled the sky on migration. The hardwood forests along the lower lakes were 25% American chestnut which was an abundant food source for wild creatures and humans alike. American elm trees dominated the moist lowlands. There were wild turkeys in the forest, and elk. Woodland caribou ranged as far south as Lake Nipissing. The great white and red pine old growth forests extended from the St. Lawrence, up the Ottawa River valley to Lake Temagami and westward to Wanapitei Lake.

One hundred and fifty years later, the passenger pigeon was extinct and the elk and wild turkey extirpated (successfully reintroduced only recently). Woodland caribou survive only in the most northern forests. Some residual American elm linger on the landscape as do a tiny number of American chestnut but they are functionally extirpated. The limestone plains of southern Ontario have become the largest clear-cut in North America and the giant pine forests have been cut to the extent that Earthroots has to fight for the retention of relic stands in Algonquin and the Temagami and Nipissing forests.

True wilderness is a rare commodity in Ontario. It can be found in some of the provincial parks where it is protected and it can be discovered on Crown land by the intrepid outdoor enthusiast during challenging hikes or more commonly by canoe. It is still there to be experienced, but it is under siege.

Aside from pursuing the completion of the park system, like our campaign for protecting Wolf Lake, most of Earthroots’ wilderness retention efforts centre on access to the forest by roads and portages.

The roads we review, pursue and resist are mostly logging roads, which now reach into every township in the vast industrial forest of northern Ontario. Even if the roads are intended to provide access to other areas and they are not directly logged, a new forest road fragments the wilderness and changes the nature of the wilderness experience and ecological function. We made a submission to the Temagami Forest Management planning process which tried to educate the forest planners on the ecological concept of Intact Forest Landscapes.

The Importance of Intact Forest Landscapes

In contrast to roads, the historic systems of portages developed through the thousands of years by the indigenous peoples and later followed by fur traders and still later by recreational canoeists, provides a low impact way of achieving a wilderness experience. But the integrity of this system has to be fought for as well. By their nature, portages are at a narrow point between two water bodies. This makes them attractive to road planners as well and places these centuries old cultural features at risk.

The whole question of the impacts of forest management on access was also the subject of an Earthroots’ submission to the forest management planning process.

Effects of Increased Access on the Temagami Canoe Culture

Earthroots will continue to educate and fight for the wilderness experience to be preserved for current and future generations. Please support our efforts.

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