Peterborough Examiner – May 10, 2021 – by Drew Monkman
MPP Dave Smith needs to act now to help protect this rich natural area
For many years, Jack’s Lake east of Apsley has been one of my favorite nature destinations. From its rich diversity of butterflies and reptiles to its birds of a northern affinity, there is so much to discover. “The area around Jack’s Lake is of exceptional ecological and cultural value. It’s a priority candidate for protection,” says Ann Bell, Director of Conservation and Education at Ontario Nature.
Jack’s Lake is also a headwater lake whose water quality and quantity depend on protecting the surrounding wetlands. Many of these wetlands have been designated as Provincially Significant. The outflow from the lake runs directly into Hull Bay on Stoney Lake. “As go the headwaters, so goes the watershed,” as scientists say.
In addition to safeguarding wetlands, the crown lands surrounding Jack’s Lake also need long-term protection from exploitive commercial activity. These include the Peterborough Crown Game Preserve and lands adjacent to Petroglyphs Provincial Park. The biggest threats to both wetlands and crown lands are the significant amount of logging being carried out and the potential development of a large-scale quarry.
Local stakeholders such as the Jack’s Lake Association (JLA) have mounted a concerted effort to protect the area from commercial activities by obtaining a Species at Risk Assessment and wetland evaluations. The association has also prepared an atlas documenting more than 4,000 citizen science wildlife observations over many years. Despite all of this, the JLA has been frustrated by government reaction to date. However, the association is pleased that Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith supports their efforts to protect the area in perpetuity. Smith is Parliamentary Assistant to Greg Rickford, the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. “Now we need our MPP to take action on behalf of his constituents and the environment. The Ontario government has the capacity to make positive change by designating this area as ‘Protected’. MPP Smith needs to put his words into action in order to maintain the health of the Kawartha Lakes”, says Neill Lanz, the JLA’s Environment Director.
A diversity of values
Jack’s Lake is situated in the “Land Between”, a region of rich biodiversity extending from Georgian Bay to the Ottawa Valley. It is the last intact wilderness in southern Ontario. Ontario Nature, a charity that has been protecting wild species and spaces in the province since 1931, has identified the Jack’s Lake area as one of Ontario’s most sensitive and ecologically-unique places and a candidate for “Protected Place” status. I believe that protecting Jack’s Lake needs to be part of Canada’s commitment to protect 25 percent of our country’s lands and waters by 2025.
Jack’s Lake has many other important values. First, it is adjacent to Petroglyphs Provincial Park. This entire area has important cultural significance to our local Mississauga Anishnabeg people, and its protection should be seen as part of reconciliation with First Nations.
The lake has been afforded status as an “at capacity trout/cold water lake”, which means that it is highly sensitive. This status calls for increased diligence to ensure protection for trout habitat. The surrounding area also provides significant habitat for at least 31 species at risk like the Blanding’s turtle and the whip-poor-will. Finally, much of the area lies within the Peterborough Crown Game Preserve which was set aside in 1927 to promote wildlife conservation.
Notwithstanding these unique values, two commercial activities threaten its future.
The Jack’s Lake area has been extensively logged over the last 10 years. Recently, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MNRF) announced a new Forest Management Plan to continue logging for at least another decade. To make matters worse, the JLA believes the Ministry is persisting with outdated logging practices and regulations.
A major concern of local residents is that logging will result in more mercury accumulating in the lake. Logging disturbs the ground and causes mercury embedded in the soil to make its way into the water. This raises mercury levels which has significant consequences for fish, loons, and other fish-eating species. MNRF has already issued advisories to limit eating fish from the lake due to mercury content. The Ministry now concedes that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
Only persistent pressure from the JLA convinced the then Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to increase logging setbacks. Originally only three metres from the lake shore, they are now 30 metres. As for wetlands feeding the lake, the setback is now 90 metres. The JLA still believes, however, that these setbacks provide insufficient protection. For example, MNRF regulations do not provide the necessary setbacks from known habitats for species at risk. In fact, provincial legislation passed in 2020 has gutted protection for these species.
In addition to these concerns, there is also the matter of the increased risk of fire as our climate continues to heat up. The Ministry is only now considering revising its logging guides and manuals to account for climate-related threats. Current logging practices, such as leaving behind flammable piles of slash, can increase the likelihood of forest fires, especially given the increased frequency of droughts and weather volatility.
The possibility of a large-scale quarry is yet another threat looming on the horizon. A prospector has been granted rights to explore for minerals. He has stated he’s confident that MNRF will allow him to proceed with a quarry in the Peterborough Game Preserve, adjacent to Jack’s Lake. A quarry operation is totally inconsistent with the function of a game preserve. The planned exploration activity, along with the quarry operation itself, would also degrade the many habitats on which species at risk depend.
There is broad opposition to the quarry from area residents and from organizations such as Ontario Nature and Muskies Canada. The mayor of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen township, Jim Martin, has also expressed his opposition, as has MPP Dave Smith. Despite this, MNRF says it won’t make any decision regarding the quarry until or if it receives a completed application.
Now is the time for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to intervene and say no to any quarrying in this sensitive area. But that alone won’t be enough. The Ontario government needs to consider affording protected status to the Jack’s Lake area, including the Peterborough Crown Game Preserve and Petroglyphs Provincial Park. MPP Dave Smith should act in accordance with his promise to support the Jack’s Lake Association, his Peterborough-Kawartha constituents, and First Nations by seizing the opportunity to lead the fight for protected status. Now is his time to act.
Climate Crisis News
HOPE: Caley Bedore at CHEX-Global TV is now giving the daily carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere as part of her 6 pm weather report. As far as I know, CHEX-Global Peterborough is only the second media outlet in Canada to do so. For Our Grandchildren, a local climate activist group for people of all ages, hopes that similar daily CO2 reports will soon be provided by newspapers, radio and television stations and Internet media across the country. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 is directly related to the amount of global heating that occurs. The concentration, now at 417 parts per million, continues to rise. It has increased by 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution. For the latest figures, go to https://www.co2.earth/daily-co2
To see a list of ways YOU can take climate action, go to https://forourgrandchildren.ca/ and click on “This Month’s Action” (speak out on Bill C-12) or “Find Another Action You Can Take Today”