07/07/2015 12:16 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 05:59 EDT

New Photos Reveal Damage Done by Ring of Fire Mineral Exploration

Autumn, taiga, Western Siberia.Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. Russia.
Getty Images
Autumn, taiga, Western Siberia.Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. Russia.

Exploration is a necessary part of the mining cycle but it is not benign.

Lots of people talk about the potential for mining the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario but how many people have an idea of the environmental footprint of ongoing exploration today? With our recently released photos we hope to provide people with a glimpse into the exploration activities that have already occurred even before full mine development and what this means to the land especially in an carbon rich ecosystem like the Hudson Bay Lowland.

This past winter Wildlands League visited an indigenous community located 1,000 kilometres from Toronto. En route we flew over the area known as the Ring of Fire. While we couldn't fly over the entire area -- there are approximately 3,000 mining claims affecting 600,000 hectares -- we did see several areas where there had been obvious past activity and were surprised by what we saw.


Exploration activities emanating out the camps in the Ring of Fire located approximately 500 km NE of Thunder Bay (Credit: Wildlands League)

Because it was winter, the contrasts were striking. The areas cleared for drill pads and trails to facilitate drilling were prolific and line cutting stretched like grids on the land as far as the eye could see. People may also be surprised to know that these activities are permitted with hardly any environmental review in Ontario.

When we started showing people in various meeting the images on our smart phones, they were also surprised and several urged us to release them publicly. So that's what we did. We hope it spurs a public conversation on the environmental impacts of early exploration activities (especially cumulative) and the need for a regional environmental assessment for the whole area to be affected by the Ring of Fire including any new roads or transmission lines that may also need to be built.


This is an example of what the land looks like after the drilling programs are done. Over 1100 holes have been drilled in the Missisa caribou range that overlaps the Ring of Fire. This photo shows an example of drilling associated with the Black Thor deposit. (Credit: Wildlands League)

The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is currently reviewing its 2006 Mineral Development Strategy. It's identified three key strategic objectives all related to maximizing Ontario's mineral potential. None of them seem to be about minimizing the impact of exploration on the environment. We hope Ontario will act to address this gap in the fall.

Ontario has a significant amount of Canada's last intact boreal forests and wetlands, which includes the Ring of Fire region. We recognize that resource development is likely to be a part of this area's future, but it has to be planned for carefully or we run the risk of destroying healthy ecosystems that have for centuries survived with minimal industrial footprints.


Negotiating The Ring Of Fire