There's a “green veil” hanging over Temagami that its mayor wants lifted, just enough, to entice mineral development.
“It is a brand, and an image, we are struggling with,” said Mayor John Hodgson. “We can have both mining and tourism. We have a land base that is rich in minerals with 2,400-square kilometres right in the (Abitibi) Greenstone Belt.”
Temagami, located 100 kilometres north of North Bay, has long been known as a tourist destination and a mecca for paddlers seeking a wilderness experience. But Hodgson and his council support mine development and contend that tourism dollars are not enough to sustain the community of 820 residents.
“There are towns that rely on tourism, like us, and there are towns that rely on mining, like Kirkland Lake and Timmins and we know what their economies are like. If we rely just on tourism, our economy is flat,” he said.
“Tourism doesn't generate T4s and a strong economy.”
Prospectors have been “drooling and drilling,” but Hodgson senses that mining companies are shying away from the area because of its image and how it has become a target of causes by environmental groups.
“It's the majors I want to talk to,” the mayor said. “There were mines here before and I want them to know we are not adverse to mining. There is this idea that mining is bad but we are not talking about clear cutting acres and acres of land for mining.”
Environmental groups have recently focused on Wolf Lake, an area 50 kilometres northeast of Sudbury and within the city's limits, and made it a Temagami issue.
“It's not in our tax base,” Hodgson said.
Environmental groups such as Earthroots claim the Wolf Lake area – which they refer to as the southwestern part of the Temagami region – is an old-growth red pine forest that has been designated a forest reserve. That designation permits mineral exploration and development but doesn't allow other industrial uses. The Ontario government may change the designation for the 340 hectares around the area to general use.
Earthroots has drafted an online template letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty that can be forwarded directly to him by anyone opposing the designation.
“Removing the forest reserve status from part of the Wolf Lake region to encourage mining investment is a dangerous step to take in the 'management' of this irreplaceable ecological gem. Under the proposed "general use" designation the old-growth forest would no longer be managed with protection of natural heritage and special landscapes as the priority, but rather with resource extraction as the primary goal,” the letter states.
Seventeen organizations and businesses came together to form the Wolf Lake Coalition to save the region from “industrial damage.”
On the coalition's website, David Sone of Earthroots said, “What will we tell our children if we neglect to protect the last remnants of this critically endangered ancient forest. If we allow mining to spoil this ecological gem we may never know what secrets, medicines, and lessons lay hidden in this natural masterpiece. Mining at Wolf Lake would be like burning the Sistine Chapel to extract a few ounces of gold from its ornaments.”
The connection to the Temagami area is an example, the mayor said, of how certain groups have branded the community as one that requires saving from resource development.
“We won't be bullied by these groups when it comes to following proper land use and planning,” Hodgson said. “We are pushing for extraction, which means economy, and there are opportunities for us.”
At the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and Good Roads Association Conference held in late February in Toronto, the mayor told Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci that he should also not be bullied by certain groups.
“This council is pro-development and I know a mine will be built here someday, no matter how long it takes,” he said. “But the one thing I worry about is provincial policies. (Former Ontario Premier) Mike Harris, a Northern politician, caved in the cancellation of the spring bear hunt. I don't expect the same from our ministers.”
Mentioning Temagami “causes a stir in Toronto” and Hodgson said the southern Ontario media is quick to cover the issues.
“When a group says, 'save Temagami', they can easily raise money. If we could get a royalty or a tax from what they raised saving Temagami, I am sure we would be in great shape,” he said.
The mayor said it is not the intent of council to lessen the tourism experience and “kick out the canoeists,” but people have a right to earn a living.
“This is our quandary. How do we rationalize our brand and not scare off industry? We have tourism and don't want to pit one against the other but the environmental movement has done that,” he said. “We are hurting because there are no full-time jobs.”
Sherman Mine, Milne Lumber and a district office of the Ministry of Natural Resources employing 60 people once operated in Temagami.
“You have to be tough to survive and we are tough and we won't get bullied around. We are open for business and we will prevail.”