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Canada plans conservation area
Ontario contributes land along Lake Superior toward the creation of the world's largest freshwater conservation area
By Scott Thistle
Duluth News Tribune

Canada may be leaping ahead of the United States when it comes to conserving one of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems.

On Monday, Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said the provincial government had agreed to hand over millions of acres of Lake Superior shoreland and lakebed to the Canadian federal government for inclusion in a new National Marine Conservation Area.

Similar to a National Park in the United States, the new conservation area managed by Parks Canada would stretch from Thunder Cape, at the tip of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, to Bottle Point just east of Terrace Bay.

It also includes the waters of Black Bay and Nipigon Bay and will run adjacent to the United States' Isle Royale National Park.

Ontario's contribution to the conservation area includes 2.47 million acres of lakebed and 14,820 acres of islands, shoals and mainland.

The idea of the conservation area has enjoyed broad-based support in Ontario because much of the land involved in the proposed conservation area already is protected as park land or is in remote offshore islands, said Kal Pristanski, mayor of the Ontario township of Red Rock.

"The nice thing about this is that it is mostly water-based," Pristanski said. Red Rock, a town of about 1,150 people, is about an hour east of Thunder Bay and sits "smack in the middle" of the proposed conservation area, said Pristanski, who served on a committee of local stakeholders that worked on issues surrounding the conservation area.

Red Rock is embracing the idea of letting the federal government manage a larger portion of the Lake Superior ecosystem because, among other things, the federal government also has committed up to $20 million toward the creation of the conservation area. The federal government also probably would step up enforcement of existing fishing regulations, adding a new focus to protecting and preserving one of the region's most productive lake- and brook-trout fisheries, Pristanski said.

"It will not be new laws but enforcement of existing laws," he said.

The decision by the provincial government to hand over jurisdiction of the lakebed, the land under the water, to the federal government was the final obstacle to creation of the conservation area, Pristanski said.

"I don't think there's any going back on it now," he said. A final agreement between the province and the federal government is being negotiated.

Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green embraced the announcement by Eves.

"It doesn't change anything on our side of the border," Green said. "But it gives us a tremendous opportunity to work together on joint issues."

As proposed, the Canadian Marine Conservation Area would share about a 4.5-mile border with Isle Royale National Park along the border between Canada and the United States.

Green credited Parks Canada with taking a lead role.

"I would say we had the lead on freshwater conservation, but the scale, size and scope of this (Canadian proposal) is really a unique lead role for conservation in this day and age."

The World Wildlife Fund Canada also celebrated the news of Ontario's decision.

The conservation area as proposed would protect much of the habitat range for migrating woodland caribou, which is considered threatened in most of Canada, said Monte Hummel, World Wildlife Fund Canada president. Many of the islands in the conservation area are considered valuable calving grounds for the caribou, he said.

The conservation area also would ensure habitat for a number of bird species, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles. It also provides protection for species of arctic plants that may help scientists better understand the effects of global warming, he said.

"This area represents one of the most spectacular freshwater coasts on Earth and the deepest, clearest open water found anywhere," Hummel said. And not only wildlife will benefit from the conservation area, he said. Monday's announcement also marked a "great day for the people who call Superior country home," Hummel said.

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