Earthroots and Timmins Residents Join in Eastern Cougar Fight

Ministry of Natural Resources and AbitibiBowater Clear-cut Endangered Species Habitat

Toronto—Ms. Patricia Del Guidice, a long-time resident of Timmins, Ontario and the environmental group Earthroots, filed an Application for Investigation under section 74 of Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights to save the Eastern Cougar, an endangered species in Ontario. With permission from the Ministry of Natural Resources (“MNR”), AbitibiBowater clear-cut in Block 60 of the Nighthawk Forest, despite multiple reported Eastern Cougar sightings and an admission by the MNR that it had little idea if denning sites would be affected by the cut.

“This is not a case where the MNR and the logging company have done a poor job of complying with the Ontario Endangered Species Act, this is a case of ignoring the Act altogether,” said Amber Ellis, executive director of Earthroots.

“The MNR and Abitibi should finally admit what it seems everyone else in Timmins knows – there are Cougars in the Nighthawk Forest and around Timmins itself that need consideration and protection,” Ellis added.

Endangered species habitat is protected from damage or destruction under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (“ESA”) and Eastern Cougars have been listed as an endangered species under provincial legislation for years. Habitat loss and human disturbance are cited as primary threats to the species’ recovery.

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (“ECO”), the number of Cougar sightings in Ontario has been steadily increasing, with approximately 500 reported sightings since 2002. There have been several sightings of the Eastern Cougar in the Nighthawk Forest reported to the MNR and the Nighthawk Forest has been identified as Eastern Cougar habitat. Yet, the MNR continues to formally reject claims that Cougars reside there.

In the Timmins area, recent sightings have been made from short distances by long-time Northern Ontario residents – witnesses who know the difference between a coyote and a cougar, as they would a dog from a cat – however, the MNR has been consistently ‘unable to verify reported sightings’. Consequently, forestry companies have not been implementing adequate habitat protection measures, if any, which is contributing to the lack of Eastern Cougar recovery in Ontario.

“The MNR attempted to verify reported Cougar sightings by placing cameras in the Nighthawk Forest during hunting season, when the area was full of activity. There were all-terrain vehicles, cars and trucks traveling throughout the area. There was also an abundance of gunshots. The likelihood of a sighting under these conditions is remote at best. We can only conclude that the MNR had no genuine interest in verifying the sightings,” said Patricia Del Guidice.

The forestry sector was required to comply with the ESA by June 30th, 2009; however, the MNR did not require Abitibi to amend its Forest Management Plan to provide for Eastern Cougar habitat identification and protection measures. In fact, the MNR granted Abitibi permission to clear-cut portions of the Nighthawk Forest as late as November 2009, despite Earthroots’ and Ms. Del Guidice’s efforts to advise them of their ongoing non-compliance with the ESA with respect to the Eastern Cougar.

After several failed attempts to secure a moratorium on logging to allow for proper Eastern Cougar monitoring, Ms. Del Guidice and Earthroots submitted an Application for Investigation to the ECO, alleging that the harvesting in the Nighthawk Forest has destroyed Eastern Cougar habitat and that the Forest Management Plan does not provide for Eastern Cougar habitat identification or protection – both clear contraventions of the ESA.

In the Nighthawk Forest and Timmins area, a cursory investigation by Donnelly Law turned up multiple sightings in 2008 and 2009 alone, none of which had been adequately verified by the MNR.

“If our clients are dissatisfied with the section 74 Investigation, they can challenge the license going forward or prosecute Abitibi for violating the Act,” said David Donnelly, counsel to the Applicants.

“It really boggles the mind that the Ontario government would further diminish its already fragile reputation for poor forest management practices by ignoring an important piece of legislation like the ESA,” Donnelly added.

For more information contact:

D. Donnelly, Donnelly Law A. Ellis, Earthroots P. Del Guidice, Applicant

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