September 20, 2007 —
If you want to catch a trophy northern pike, walleye or brook trout in
the northern Canadian wilderness, better plan your trip soon. That’s
because according to a report released today by the Wildlife
Conservation Society, looming development, including forestry, mining
and dam construction, threatens this pristine region of untouched
forests, wetlands, lakes and streams. But the authors of the report
also say that that there is still time for government officials to
enact safeguards ensuring that northern fisheries remain a valuable
resource for the future.
report looks at the current status of several freshwater fish species –
including popular sport fish such as brook trout, walleye, northern
pike and lake trout – in far northern Ontario’s boreal region, which is
currently off limits to forestry. It finds that even basic information
on the status of fish populations and their distribution, along with
long-term habitat trends, is largely missing in this vast region.
The report also warns that measures meant to mitigate the impacts of
road building, hydro-electric dams or forestry on fish populations
still lack a proven track record of success, providing few assurances
that these globally significant aquatic systems will be adequately
safeguarded in the face of the steady northward march of development.
Canada produced this report to help inform decision makers – whether
they are government ministers, planners or community members – about
what is at stake for northern fisheries, and for a region that we
believe is an international ecological gem," says Dr. Justina Ray,
executive director. "These are world-class fisheries that are important
food sources, great recreational resources, and an economic engine for
local communities across the north," she points out.
To put the
importance of the northern boreal region in context, the report
illustrates through new mapping that development and resource
extraction in Ontario has left little ground untouched and undisturbed
watersheds now occur almost exclusively in the boreal region, the area
north of 51 degrees.
"The fact that this region still contains
major watersheds without a single dam and few roads makes this a world
renowned destination for recreational fishing and other outdoor
activities, as well as a critically important refuge for sensitive
species like lake sturgeon," says scientist David Browne, the author of
the report. Sturgeon are considered threatened throughout almost all of
their worldwide range and populations have been declining in Southern
Unlike more developed regions in southern Ontario, fish
communities of the northern part of the province remain largely
unaltered by species introductions, stocking, overexploitation or
pollution. In fact, the current healthy condition of fisheries in this
region provides an unprecedented opportunity to conserve abundant and
diverse fish communities — a challenge that will require proactive
land-use planning coupled with hard science.
ecosystems, meanwhile, are among the most threatened ecosystems on the
planet. Physical alteration, water withdrawal, overexploitation,
pollution, and the introduction of non-native species have caused
widespread habitat loss, degraded water quality, declines in aquatic
species, and an overall loss of biodiversity. The report highlights a
growing body of research that documents a number of important negative
impacts to fish populations from the principal agents of change in
Ontario’s northern boreal forests.
The report culminates in a
series of research and policy recommendations aimed at ensuring the
outlook for northern Ontario freshwater ecosystems. These include
establishing a Fisheries Research and Assessment Unit for the area
above the current managed forest boundary, and enhancing knowledge of
the distribution and status of fish in the region, particularly those
exhibiting demonstrated vulnerability to development in order to
incorporate fish and aquatic considerations into conservation-based
land use planning in the region.
"Ontario really has a
tremendous opportunity to proactively protect these freshwater
ecosystems through careful evaluation of the consequences of past
activities and the safeguarding of important areas following baseline
inventory. And by doing that, we also help to protect fisheries and
freshwater species present there, which means the north has a great
deal to gain and little to lose by taking a forward-looking approach to
conservation in the northern boreal," says Dr. Ray.
Source : Wildlife Conservation Society