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Baseline Environmental Monitoring in Ontario’s Ring of Fire

The Southern Ontario L-SETAC Pub Night continued on Wednesday, October 28th, 2015, in Burlington at The Lodge at Emma’s Back Porch. Our speaker of the night was Chris Charron, Manager of the Air Monitoring and Transboundary Air Sciences Section of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (OMOECC). In his talk, Chris touched on his 12 years of experience in the design and implementation of the Ministry’s Far North Carbon Flux Monitoring and the Ring of Fire Baseline Environmental Data Collection programs. Ontario’s Far North is a globally significant natural environment encompassing 45 million hectares of boreal forest, wetland, and one of the most southerly areas of tundra in the world. These peatland and forest systems represent globally significant stores of carbon, protect water quality/ quantity at a regional scale, maintain biodiversity, and modify local and regional climates. Interest in accessing and developing the region’s mineral, energy, and forest resources has increased in recent years and several large scale developments are currently under consideration, particularly in the so-called Ring of Fire.

Limited inventory and baseline environmental data exists for this part of the province due to its remoteness, the logistical challenges of operating in the Far North, and limited resource development to date. These gaps in knowledge and general understanding make it difficult to detect change and/or assess the potential impacts of development or other types of disturbance, such as climate change on its sensitive ecosystems. Chris discussed the logistical challenges of working in these isolated regions, sampling on unstable bogs and fens while assuring QA/QC of analytical samples to be analyzed hundreds of kilometers away in Toronto. He was also able to share experiences of accessing sites via helicopters. Lots of pictures of helicopters! He also highlighted and emphasized the role of First Nations in community support, local knowledge and site selection. OMOECC is continuing the basic biophysical survey and inventory work. However, additional baseline environmental data are needed to support land use planning and related policy and management decisions involving the Far North, given the potential for future development. The information collected through these surveys will be used to describe natural ranges of variability, detect changes, trends, and thresholds, and assess the individual and cumulative impacts of development on a regional scale. –Submitted by Gerald Tetreault

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