A new study from the University of Guelph suggests that the hotly contested old-growth forest around Wolf Lake is an irreplaceable piece of Canadian biodiversity.
The forest has been at the centre of a local controversy since the government of Ontario renewed mining claims and leases last year instead of adding the land to the neighbouring Chiniguchi Waterway Provincial Park.
"Wolf Lake Forest deserves intensive study, monitoring and full protection from future development," said the study's lead author, Guelph environmental sciences professor Madhur Anand, in a press release.
Locals have been wary of mining development for years, but this study casts the forest in a new light as the largest intact red pine forest left on the planet — a "scientifically irreplaceable system," according to the study.
In 2012, the province backed away from a proposed removal of the forest’s reserve status, and renewed its commitment to protecting the trees. But later that same year, the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources renewed the mining claims for another 21 years. Local citizens and businesses, alarmed by the possibility of mining in the area, formed the Wolf Lake Coalition and began to seek permanent protection for the forest.
“Old growth” is not an arbitrary term used to designate old trees; it refers to an entire ecosystem right down to fungal and bacterial communities that only form over centuries without disturbance. They are not replaceable on a human timescale.
Because of logging and other human uses, old-growth forests in Canada are extremely rare, covering less than one per cent of their original range. Scientifically, this means that allowing development on a large old-growth forest such as the Wolf Lake forest would be a major loss.
The study, published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, concluded that the forest contains greater biodiversity than younger forests, its large size allows for natural disturbance regimes such as forest fires, and its geographical location — between boreal and deciduous forests — enables the study of past and ongoing climate change.
In May, the Wolf Lake Coalition invited premier Kathleen Wynne to paddle the lake this summer; they have not received a response.
“Lets just make it a park,” says Bruce Ingersoll, a spokesperson for the Coalition. “Let’s finish what we started.”
With files from Lillianne Cadieux-Shaw