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A mecca for wildlife viewing (6/01)

By Sari Huhtala One of Ontario's best-kept secrets will soon become a catalyst for economic development in the Township of Chapleau.

By Sari Huhtala

One of Ontario's best-kept secrets will soon become a catalyst for economic development in the Township of Chapleau. The recent completion of a strategic-plan initiative for the Township of Chapleau has identified a number of areas for potential economic development for the town, says Marty Peterson, economic development officer with the Chapleau Regional Development Corporation. Marketing Chapleau as a gateway to the largest Crown game preserve in the world - an area which encompasses 2,00,000 acres - has been identified as a priority, he adds.

"We completed a study that took a look at the potential for ecotourism in the area," Peterson says. "Chapleau is right on the edge of the game preserve so we want to market the preserve as a wilderness area to attract more hikers, birdwatchers and bear watchers."

In 1991 the town completed a strategic plan for economic development. They've since then implemented a number of suggestions from the study, however, have recently revamped the plan with public input, he adds.

FedNor and the Ontario Trillium Foundation have recently approved funding - a combined total of $96,000 - to hire a co-ordinator to input the plan. The total cost projected to input the plan is $109,000 with the remainder of the funding provided by the regional development corporation.

Emphasis will be placed on developing private and public partnerships, as well as Aboriginal partnerships, to expand ecotourism in the area, he adds.

John Peluch, area west supervisor and enforcement supervisor with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Chapleau, agrees the game preserve, with its "abundance of wildlife," has untapped potential for ecotourism revolving around wildlife observation. This type of ecotourism can have "huge spinoffs for the town if they develop it," Pelach says.

"There's a growing demand for wildlife viewing," Pelach says. "(The MNR employees) are seeing more and more people driving into Missinaibi Provincial Park, which is an 80-kilometre drive, and the visitors will tell us they've seen 19 bears and a handful of moose on a round trip. To do a round trip to drive and see 18 bears and a handful of moose is quite a statement."

Canadian wildlife behaviour specialists and researchers Gisele Benoit, Monique Benoit and Raynald Benoit are developing a wildlife research centre in the preserve - an initiative that complements MNR' s mandate to manage and preserve the Crown land, Peluch says.

Gisele Benoit is acclaimed for her documentaries entitled In the Company of Moose and The Grouse, an Exceptional Bird and has recently relocated to the preserve to continue her 20-year research on the behaviour and communication of the moose. Her research will also incorporate a comparative study on the habits of moose from the Parc de la Gaspesie in Quebec versus those from the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve. The intent of the research is to build a comprehensive library of documentation, through audiovisuals, soundtracks and manuscripts, on the fauna, the flora and natural phenomena in the preserve. The research phase is projected to continue for a period of 10 years.

This type of research will enhance ecotourism in the region and will promote the wildlife in the game preserve, says Pelach. The MNR recently completed a comprehensive study, led by the University of Guelph and MNR wildlife biologist Marty Obbart, on the behaviour of the black bear in the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve.

The research provided a comparative look at the behaviour of bears in Chapleau versus those in southern Ontario.

A number of other venues for economic development are also being explored by the township. Chapleau is also reviewing economic development opportunities around the forest industry by encouraging partnerships between the Chapleau cogeneration plant and the private sector, says Earl Freeborn, mayor of Chapleau.

"We've been looking for an entrepreneur who would be interested in developing a silviculture project in conjunction with the Chapleau cogeneration plant," Freeborn says. "It would really be advantageous (for both the entrepreneur and the forest industry) because of the lumber companies located in Chapleau."

Chapleau's two lumber companies, Weyerhauser Co. Ltd. and Domtar Ltd. together employ about 400 individuals in the community.

Since the late 1980s both lumber mills have shared a relationship with privately owned Chapleau Cogeneration Ltd., says Donald Drouin, general manager at the Domtar mill in Chapleau.

The cogeneration plant is a wood-fired thermal electricity generating facility that feeds electrical energy to Chapleau's hydro grid. The cogeneration plant burns 108,000 tons of wood waste annually and produces 50,000,000 kilowatts of electricity a year.

Domtar sells their bark wood waste to the cogeneration plant. The plant in turn, supplies steam to the forest company for drying wood and heating the mill.

"Before (the cogeneration plant was developed), we were not getting a return for the material, we were landfilling it," Drouin says. "Now the return we get is power. There's an understanding that this (exchange of wood waste for energy) is for the betterment of the environment, reduces costs and also creates employment."

A similar type of partnership can be developed between the cogeneration plant and an entrepreneur interested in growing and cultivating trees, Freeborn says. Steam and hot water, byproducts from the plant, can be utilized to heat a greenhouse year-round for the purpose of planting and growing seedlings for the forest companies, Freeborn adds.