RELEASE Monday Dec. 29, 2014
ON says ‘no’ to environmental assessment of clearcut mercury impacts in Grassy Narrows
Science indicates that clearcuts will deepen the tragedy of mercury poisoning
Grassy Narrows – On the night before Christmas Grassy Narrows First Nation received notice that Ontario is rejecting the community’s request for an Individual Environmental Assessment of the mercury impacts from the controversial final plan for clearcut logging on their homeland. Grassy Narrows is concerned that the planned clearcut logging will harm the health of their families by raising mercury poison levels in local fish – a traditional staple.
Ontario’s logging plan makes no mention of mercury, and contains no special measures to account for the fact that Grassy Narrows’ homeland is the site of Canada’s most infamous case of mercury poisoning arising from 9,000 kg of mercury that was dumped into their river by a paper mill upstream in the 1960’s. Scientific studies indicate that clearcut logging in the boreal forest can raise mercury in fish to unsafe levels. [emphasis added]
“Ontario has ignored our voices and is planning to force more devastating clearcuts on our people without even applying their own Individual Environmental Assessment process,” said Joseph Fobister, a Grassy Narrows land-user and businessman. “It makes me sad that our people will become even sicker if the government allows the logging industry to poison the fish that we eat.”
“I am disheartened by this hurtful decision,” said Chief Roger Fobister Sr. of Grassy Narrows. “It seems that our health and our culture do not matter to the government as they attempt to force their clearcut plans on us. The only honourable way forward here is to work together to gain our agreement before our land and water are used.”
Grassy Narrows’ request was an important test of Ontario’s environmental laws. People with concerns can request an Individual Environmental Assessment (IEA) of a logging plan if they believe that environmental and human health are not being protected. However, such requests are rarely, if ever, granted since the current regulatory regime was established in 1994. The Timber Class Environmental Assessment for all logging which was approved in 1994 did not consider the mercury impacts from logging as they were not known until 1997.
“This is a glaring failure to use our environmental laws to ensure that the health of people and our environment are safe from the harmful impacts of industrial clearcut logging,” explained Amber Ellis, Executive Director of Earthroots, which supported Grassy Narrows in their request. “It is hard to imagine a situation that requires an Individual Environmental Assessment more than the mercury issue in Grassy Narrows. What use is an Individual Environmental Assessment process when every request is rejected?”
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) writes that “[t]he potential for forest management activities to result in mobilization of terrestrial mercury into aquatic systems is well documented and a serious concern.” MNRF also admits that “[T]here are not mitigation measures specific to mercury in the [logging rules],” and “[t]here are no claims that the [logging rules] direction and application of the [logging rules] will mitigate or eliminate Hg mobilization.”
And yet the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has given the green light to the MNRF to authorize clearcut logging in one of the most mercury impacted parts of the planet, against the loud objections of Grassy Narrows where many families already suffer the debilitating symptoms of mercury poisoning. [emphasis added]
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