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Grassy Narrows chief urges Trudeau to cleanup mercury in river

A clear cut section of forest is seen on Grassy Narrows First Nation territory near Dryden, Ont., in this 2006 handout image. (HO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

GLORIA GALLOWAY

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 8:14PM EST

Last updated Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 8:16PM EST

 

Responsibility for the mercury problems straddles provincial and federal jurisdictions and, so far, the province of Ontario has borne much of the blame for the fact that the contamination has persisted in the Wabigoon River for six decades. But David Sone of Earthroots, a conservation advocacy group, says there are at least three reasons for the federal government to get involved.

“There is at least still some [federal] responsibility for fisheries where they are part of a cultural fishery” like the one at Grassy Narrows, said Mr. Sone. “There is a responsibility for the health of First Nations. And there is the broader treaty and fiduciary responsibility for the well-being of First Nations.”

 

The chief of a small Northern Ontario First Nation whose people are being poisoned by mercury from a defunct paper mill is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to engage the federal government in the cleanup of the river that is the source of the community’s fish.

Simon Fobister, the Chief of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, has written twice to Mr. Trudeau – in May and in September – and Mr. Fobister’s predecessor, Roger Fobister, wrote to the Prime Minister in March. All of the letters told Mr. Trudeau: “We invite you to visit our community to announce alongside us that the mercury in our river system, our source of life, will finally be cleaned up.”

The chief says he has received no response to those invitations, though the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged to The Globe and Mail that it had received them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Trudeau pointed out that a representative of the Indigenous Affairs department visited the community in June along with provincial ministers.

Many First Nations in Canada are coping with the negative environmental consequences of development on or near their territories, but few have endured hardships like those suffered in Grassy Narrows, where 90 per cent of residents are showing signs of mercury poisoning. 

Read the full article in the The Globe and Mail here.

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Awenda Provincial Park Coyote/Wolf Family Shot Dead and Abandoned

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Niagara Falls – Two wild canids were found shot to death and dumped in the snow just outside Awenda Provincial Park last week, where hunting is illegal.

The animals were identified as a female adult and female pup of the year. Without genetic testing, determining if they were eastern coyotes or threatened Algonquin wolves is impossible. Upon finding the two animals the hiker notified the Ontario Provincial Police, who are now investigating the incident with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Last week, the same hiker found three canids inside the park boundary shot to death. When he returned to the site several hours later, the hiker found the bodies were removed by person(s) unknown.

The hiker noted that the way the coyotes or wolves were killed is referred to as ‘rot shot’ – gunfire directed at the side of an animal, used to deliver an excruciatingly painful slow death.

“The number of animals, their ages, and the small scale of the region in which they were found indicates they were probably a family pack,” says Lesley Sampson, Founding Executive Director of Canada Watch Canada. “Coyotes and wolves are highly social, family-oriented keystone species that manage Ontario’s diverse ecosystems. The fragmenting of a coyote or wolf family can have a drastic and detrimental impact on the stability of the family structure, while disrupting the prey/predator relationships throughout their home range.”

Read more...

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Grassy Narrows in the news!

Ontario vows to clean up Grassy Narrows river system

By DAVID BRUSER News Reporter
JAYME POISSON News reporter
Thu., Nov. 24, 2016

Ontario’s environment minister is promising to clean up the river system near Grassy Narrows First Nation “to the satisfaction of the chief and the health of the people.”

The Star reported Tuesday that a comprehensive analysis of provincial fish data conducted by the University of Waterloo’s research chair in biology, Dr. Heidi Swanson, revealed that the walleye eaten by the people of Grassy Narrows are the most mercury-contaminated in the province.

Read the full article in The Star.


 

Promise to clean up waters at Grassy Narrows is long overdue: Editorial

Fifty-four years after mercury was first dumped into the river system near Grassy Narrows in northern Ontario, poisoning the fish and any person or creature that ate them, Environment Minister Glen Murray is finally promising to clean up the water.

It’s about time.

Study after study has shown that generations of people from the Grassy Narrows and Whitedog First Nations have been poisoned as the provincial government mishandled the file and obfuscated the truth.

Read the full article in The Star.


 

Grassy Narrows residents eating fish with highest mercury levels in province

By JAYME POISSON News reporter
DAVID BRUSER News Reporter
Wed., Nov. 23, 2016
 

For the residents of Grassy Narrows who have fished Clay Lake and the river downstream for generations, walleye is a dietary staple.

Now a comprehensive analysis of provincial data conducted for the Star confirms what has long been suspected: the walleye they are eating are the most mercury-contaminated in the province.

“It’s overwhelming for me,” said Ryan Kokokopenace, 36, when told of the Star’s finding. Kokokopenace and his family fish for walleye in the Wabigoon River, which is connected to Clay Lake. “It’s been our way of life for so long. I’ve been doing it since I was 3.”

The mercury in an average meal of walleye from Clay Lake is 15 times the daily tolerable intake limit for adults, and about 40 times the limit for women of child-bearing age, pregnant women and children.

Read the full article in The Star.

 

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Ontario makes controversial decision to allow rare wolf kill

For Immediate Release

Majority of 17,301 public comments opposed to hunting and trapping threatened Algonquin wolves 

MONTREAL (September 19, 2016) – Last week, as the hunting and trapping seasons opened, the Ontario government announced its decision to strip at-risk Algonquin wolves of protection from hunters and trappers across the majority of their range. Ongoing hunting and trapping, the primary threats to the species, caused the wolves' at-risk status to deteriorate to Threatened on June 15th 2016. A mere 154 adult wolves are left in Ontario. Conservation and animal rights groups from across North America are condemning the decision.

Ontario claims their decision is justified due to the inability of hunters and trappers to differentiate between coyotes and Algonquin wolves. Without genetically testing each animal killed, the government cannot track how many Algonquin wolves are killed. There is no limit on the number of wolves that can be trapped and hunting bag limits are absent in some parts of the wolf's habitat.

Hunting and trapping were banned in the townships surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park in 2001 due to overwhelming public concern for the park wolves. This year, public concern has been ignored - the majority of the 17,301 comments submitted in response to the proposals opposed the regulation changes. 

"The Ontario government is peddling their decision as improved protection for the wolves because they have closed hunting and trapping in three additional areas bordering provincial parks," said Hannah Barron, director of wildlife conservation, Earthroots. "However, these new closures are too small to protect Algonquin wolf packs, let alone individual animals capable of traveling hundreds of kilometres in their lifetime. Any wolf outside of these closures can be killed."

Read more...

Rare Algonquin wolf's status deteriorates

By Pembroke Daily Observer

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 

Eastern wolf

On June 15, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced that Canada's rarest wolf faces a higher risk of extinction than previously thought. Now named 'Algonquin Wolves', after their stronghold population in Algonquin Provincial Park, the wolves were upgraded from Special Concern to Threatened status in Ontario.

In a press released issued by the organization Earthroots, it says that under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, Threatened status affords the wolves and their habitat immediate and automatic protection from harvest. However, the release warns, under existing regulations, the wolves will continue to be killed in unknown numbers in legal wolf/coyote open seasons.

"Outside of Algonquin Park, Algonquin wolves are largely unable to find a mate of their own kind, and more commonly mate with eastern coyotes. This interbreeding makes it impossible to tell the difference between the two animals without a genetic test," said Lesley Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada. "MNRF does not require these tests, and therefore has no idea how many Algonquin wolves are being killed each year. Algonquin wolf recovery requires a government commitment to protect the eastern coyotes they live alongside and are often confused for."

As the last representatives of the once wide ranging Eastern Wolf species, Algonquin wolves have been found infrequently across central Ontario and western Quebec, numbering somewhere between 250 and 1,000 animals. Naïve to the risks associated with humans - hunting, trapping and vehicle collisions - the animals' survival is low outside of protected areas. MNRF's own research shows that without more protection in Ontario, where most of the wolves are found, recovery is virtually impossible.

Read more...

Rare Wolf or Common Coyote? It Shouldn't Matter, But It Does

The concept of species is flawed, but it still has a huge bearing on conservation policy

By Charlie Northcott

“You need to protect coyotes to successfully protect eastern wolves,” says Hannah Barron, director of wildlife conservation at Earthroots, an Ontario-based nonprofit. “You can’t tell the difference between a coyote and an eastern wolf without a genetic test. Not all hunters report what they kill. We have no idea how many are dying.”


Algonquinwolfstare.jpg

Photo Credit: Wes Liikane

Drive down the main highway that runs through Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park after dark, and you may hear one of the eeriest sounds in nature. That shrill, haunting lament is the howl of the Algonquin wolf, which has roamed this land for centuries.

Also known as eastern wolves, Algonquin wolves are considered almost mythical by many Canadians. According to an Iroquois legend, these elusive creatures rescued mankind from an apocalyptic flood. Today they are rarely seen, preferring to stay hidden as they stalk moose and deer in their vast wooded territory. They are distinctive in appearance, with rusty brown fur and short, lean bodies. In many ways, they look identical to coyotes.

That "resemblance" has often proved deadly.

The Canadian government has spent more than 10 years deliberating over whether Algonquin wolves are a unique species. In a key decision on June 14, they decided they were and listed them as “threatened,” which makes it illegal to hunt them. But last month, new genetic research in the journal Evolutionary Genetics asserted just the opposite. That study suggests that between 50 and 70 percent of the eastern wolf’s genome derives from gray wolves, while the rest comes from coyotes. If the new study is correct, then the “Algonquin wolf” does not exist; it is simply a hybrid.

Of course, one genetic study does not put the debate to rest. Some scientists believe the evidence is questionable, saying that the study conflated Great Lakes wolf populations with Algonquin wolves. They also point out that researchers relied on just two genetic samples from wolves within Algonquin Provincial Park. “They are not pure and we’ve never said they were pure,” says Linda Rutledge, a geneticist focusing on the eastern wolf at Princeton University who was not directly involved in the study. “But absolutely there is something unique about the Algonquin wolf.”

The problem is, no one has been able to clearly define what that “something” is. And without a definition, prioritizing the survival of one group of endangered animals—no matter how beloved or culturally important—can prove challenging.

Read more...

Wildlife conservationists urge Alberta to abandon proposed caribou restoration plan

'Science, even the best science, doesn't give us permission to do whatever we want'

By Tricia Lo, CBC News

Hannah Barron, director of wildlife conservation campaigns at Earthroots, said more than 1,000 wolves have been killed in an attempt to protect the Little Smoky Caribou herd over the past decade, with "no significant increase in caribou numbers." 

 

Alberta is considering fencing off large areas of northern woodlands to preserve threatened caribou herds on some of the most heavily impacted lands in the province.

Alberta is considering fencing off large areas of northern woodlands to preserve threatened caribou herds on some of the most heavily impacted lands in the province. (The Canadian Press)

 

Conservation groups across the country are calling into question both the ethics and the effectiveness of a proposal to recover woodland caribou in Alberta.

The draft plan includes an experiment to fence a 100-square-kilometre area where caribou would be able to breed, and any predators that pose a threat to the enclosed herd would be killed. 

The trial would study whether it is possible to restore caribou numbers in the absence of specific factors that either are responsible for caribou mortality or that compete with caribou for resources. 

Paul Paquet, senior scientist with the Raincoast Conservation Fund, said destroying wolves, deer, elk and moose, in order to provide an unknown benefit to caribou would be an unethical course of action. 

"As a scientific experiment, it's of real interest," said Paquet.

"But science, even the best science, doesn't give us permission to do whatever we want," he told CBC's Alberta@Noon.

"This is a case of just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should."

Read more...

Province ignored minister’s 1984 recommendation to clean up mercury in river near Grassy Narrows: Star Investigation

By JAYME POISSON News reporter, and DAVID BRUSER News Reporter, The Star 

The environment minister in 1984 recommended a plan to “cover the mercury sediments” near Grassy Narrows, a suggestion the provincial government of the day did not act on. More than 30 years later, the fish that feed the community are still contaminated.

A 1984 recommendation to cabinet from then-Environment Minister Andrew Brandt said the Ontario government should endorse a $2-3-million remediation plan to “cover the mercury sediments” in the nearby Clay Lake on the English-Wabigoon River system. But nothing was done by the government of the day to clean up the polluted river and lakes, and more than 30 years later the fish that feed the community are still contaminated.

Photo: Todd Korol, Toronto Star

Ontario’s former environment minister called for a clean up of mercury contaminating Grassy Narrows First Nation, historical cabinet memos obtained by the Star show.

But nothing was done by the government of the day to clean up the polluted river and lakes, and more than 30 years later the fish that feed the community are still contaminated.

The March 30, 1984, recommendation to cabinet from then-Environment Minister Andrew Brandt said the government should endorse a $2-3 million remediation plan to “cover the mercury sediments” in the nearby Clay Lake on the English-Wabigoon River, but hold off on the more disruptive and costly option of dredging the river system pending further study.

What had prompted the former environment minister’s advice was a scientific report by the 1983 Canada-Ontario Steering Committee on the English-Wabigoon River System. The report said the mercury had contaminated sediments in the surrounding rivers and lakes and that the fish would be contaminated for generations if the mercury wasn’t cleaned up. (Today, one meal of Walleye from Clay Lake contains up to 150 times the safe dose of mercury recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

The committee recommended, among other things, to place clean sediment in the water so that it settles on the bottom of Clay Lake to stabilize the mercury-contaminated sediment — a method called resuspension — as well as some dredging of the river. A small pilot project done for the 1983 report tested the method of resuspension in Clay Lake and found it reduced mercury levels in fish “by ten times.”

“The provincial government should not appear reluctant to take action on the report’s recommendations,” wrote a senior environment ministry staffer in a briefing note circulated within the department in the spring of 1984.

This document also said that the federal and provincial governments should start negotiating cost-sharing of a $2-3 million-lake remediation program.

Cabinet discussions are secret, and it is unclear how the decision was arrived at in the 1980s to allow the river system to recover naturally. The cabinet during that time was under the leadership of Conservative premier Bill Davis.

Read more...

Rare Wolf’s At-Risk Status Deteriorates in Ontario

For Immediate Release

Earthroots, Coyote Watch Canada and Wolf Awareness 

Groups urge new Minister to enforce ESA, ban ongoing hunting and trapping

Photo credit: Algonquin Wolf, Wes Liikane

Algonquin Wolf

TORONTO – On June 15th, 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced that Canada’s rarest wolf faces a higher risk of extinction than previously thought.  Now named ‘Algonquin Wolves’, after their stronghold population in Algonquin Provincial Park, the wolves were upgraded from Special Concern to Threatened status in Ontario. A Management Plan, legally mandated for Special Concern status, has been overdue since 2008.

Under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, Threatened status affords the wolves and their habitat immediate and automatic protection from harvest.  However, under existing regulations, the wolves will continue to be killed in unknown numbers in legal wolf/coyote open seasons.

“Outside of Algonquin Park, Algonquin wolves are largely unable to find a mate of their own kind, and more commonly mate with eastern coyotes. This interbreeding makes it impossible to tell the difference between the two animals without a genetic test,” explains Lesley Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada.  “MNRF does not require these tests, and therefore has no idea how many Algonquin wolves are being killed each year.  Algonquin wolf recovery requires a government commitment to protect the eastern coyotes they live alongside and are often confused for.” 

As the last representatives of the once wide ranging Eastern Wolf species, Algonquin wolves have been found infrequently across central Ontario and western Quebec, numbering somewhere between 250 and 1000 animals.  Naïve to the risks associated with humans – hunting, trapping and vehicle collisions – the animals’ survival is low outside of protected areas.  MNRF’s own research shows that without more protection in Ontario, where most of the wolves are found, recovery is virtually impossible.

Read more...

Grassy Narrows Speaks with Avi Lewis

River Run 2016: Water, Indigenous rights, Justice for Mercury Survivors

 

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 from 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM  

Ryerson University - Vari Engineering Building, ENG 103, 245 Church St., Toronto, ON 

 

FEATURING:

• Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister Sr.

• Judy Da Silva - Grassy Narrows Clan Mother

• Grassy Narrows Youth Singers

• Avi Lewis  

Followed by: River Run 2016 Rally & March on June 2nd

TICKETS:

Buy online: $10 or $20

• 100 pay-what-you-can tickets will be available at the door on a first-come first-serve basis for low-income people (no questions asked).

All ticket proceeds go to the Grassy Narrows to pay for travel to Toronto to attend the River Run and say no to mercury poisoning. Donate directly to their travel costs.