What's happening at Wolf Lake?

July 26, 2022
Naomi Grant, Franco Mariotti, and Viki Mather

Wolf Lake is the largest remaining old-growth red pine forest in North America. This globally significant and endangered ecosystem is a recreational paradise known around the world. It has been recognized as a fish sanctuary, a candidate for park status, and as a priority natural area for protection.

It is also the site of active mining leases and claims.  

The past two winters have seen early mining exploration activity ramp up at Wolf Lake with more planned in the near future. The Wolf Lake Coalition has received many queries about what is happening at Wolf Lake and have provided a distressing update about the observed impacts. (See link at the end of post)

Government Oversight

The Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Resources and Forestry is responsible for oversight of mining exploration activity. Despite the sensitivity of the Wolf Lake old-growth forest and the concerns raised by Wolf Lake Coalition and others, only two site visits have been made by the Ministry (June and July 2021), both in response to complaints. No site visits have been made in 2022, during or after the most recent exploration activity. Currently, no site visits are scheduled in response to the concerns raised in spring 2022. 

The Ministry has the authority to impose terms or conditions on permits. In the fall of 2020, in response to public comments on a mining exploration application in Wolf Lake Forest Reserve, the Ministry states regarding Wolf Lake Forest Reserve: “The land use intent specifies forest reserves are areas where protection of natural heritage and special landscapes is a priority, but some resource use can take place with appropriate conditions.” However, no terms or conditions were added to this permit, or any other recent permit (2018-present) for mining exploration at Wolf Lake. 

The Ministry relies on existing regulations to provide adequate protection. However, to rely on regulations and guidelines, monitoring and enforcement is necessary. As noted above, regular site visits have not been made.

Transparency and Public Involvement

There is great public interest in the protection of Wolf Lake old-growth forest. In 2020, over 500 public comments were submitted on an application for mining exploration, 98% opposed to mining activity of any kind. This level of public interest and the uniqueness and sensitivity of the old-growth red pine ecosystem warrants extra transparency and engagement with the public on activities in Wolf Lake that has been lacking to date. 

Moving Forward

Wolf Lake is a unique old-growth red pine forest and a highly valued recreational area, with very high public interest in its protection. There are active mining leases and claims in Wolf Lake old-growth forest that give the right for mining exploration activity to occur at this time. It is in everyone’s interest to keep the damage caused by that activity as small as possible. 

The damage observed in the Wolf Lake old-growth forest after the past two seasons of work is more than it needs to be for this level of exploration activity and must not be repeated in this sensitive ecosystem. 

The Ministries need to be prepared with a protection plan that sees Wolf Lake Forest Reserve integrated into a protected space, once mining leases and claims are no longer active. 

Governments should show leadership to find a solution to protect Wolf Lake in a way that satisfies all parties: Wahnapitae First Nation, Inventus (the current lease/claim holder), the public, and the health of the forest. There are many ways to create protected areas including Indigenous led conservation areas, provincial park systems, and collaborations with the federal governments. 

In the meantime, we must protect what is there for when that day comes. If you are out on the land and water, you can do your part by keeping your footprint light, reporting any damage you observe to the local office of the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and by speaking with your local MP’s and MPP’s about the protection needed for Wolf Lake. 

Click here to learn more about the observed impacts

Click here to send a letter to stop further destruction of Wolf Lake

Text by: Naomi Grant, Franco Mariotti, and Viki Mather, members of the Wolf Lake Coalition Steering Committee.

Photo credits: Rob Nelson

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