BY BILL BRADLEY
Time is running out for Jenny Martindale and Jim Little.
The couple are owners of Sundog Outfitters and they?re concerned about protecting a significant parcel of wilderness within Greater Sudbury.
On Saturday, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) ended opportunities for citizens to comment on the de-listing of the Vermillion River Delta Forest Reserve to a general purpose area open to all resource exploitation.
Martindale, Little and their supporters are fighting to save the beauty of the pristine wilderness area.
?Five years ago, Jim and I discovered the most remarkable piece of acreage in Dowling Township on Simmons Lake within Greater Sudbury,? said Martindale. ?The lot was fully forested and boasted over 2,000 feet of frontage on a small lake, which just happened to be a provincially significant wetland and connected to the Vermillion River.
?For a couple of young entrepreneurs wishing to start up an eco-tourism business, this seemed to good to be true. We had hundreds of acres of protected forest to explore and many kilometres of canoe trails to paddle right outside our door.?
The couple bought the 144-acre property, investing a significant amount of money, knowing the land was isolated and off the electrical grid.
The real value, they believe, involved adjacent land ? thousands of acres of mature second growth pine and hardwoods. It was listed as the Vermillion River Delta Forest Reserve in 1999 by the Ontario Living Legacy land use strategy formulated by the Ontario government.
Originally, the 1,185 hectare site, southwest of Dowling, was recommended to be part of the Vermillion River Delta Provincial Park after the expiration of mining tenure.
?We have gone ahead and offered year-round tourism services programs to both local residents and tourists from southern Ontario,? said Martindale.
As a forest reserve, the protection of natural heritage and special landscapes is a priority, but some resource use ? such as mining or related access
? can take place. Commercial logging is prohibited in a forest reserve.
A problem for many forest reserves is the overlapping of mining tenure claims or leases below surface, says Chris Marr, planner for MNR in Timmins. He is involved in the reclassification of forest reserves.
?We are concerned about regulating sites with overlapping interests, above and below ground,? said Marr. ?The original intent was to give these forest reserves more protection. We are reviewing 66 forest reserves in Ontario with a view towards increasing protections towards a park or
conservation reserve status or removing existing protections to a general resource use classification because they are just too hard to regulate.
?Often when lands are removed from a forest classification other replacement lands are sought nearby.?
If the Vermillion delta site is de-listed no replacement additional nearby lands will be sought by the MNR, said Marr.
?The problem is the extensive mining tenure in the area. Underlying the Vermillion River Delta Forest Reserve are a number of 21-year mining leases involved, which are easily renewed,? he said. ?If there were no such prior activity, then I see no problem in this area being considered for park status.?
Marr denied opening up the area for logging was a factor in the proposal to de-list the forest reserve.
Marr said no decision has been made regarding the specific area as public comments were still being received last week. ?We would like to see a balance struck between all resource users and see where people have issues. We are aware that the site lies within Greater Sudbury and there has been interest in this site made to us by the municipality,? he said.
Sundog Outfitters have launched an e-mail campaign to gather support letters to send to the MNR office dealing with the issue. ?The response has been overwhelming. We have had 50 support letters including one from the City of Greater Sudbury because of the prime tourism aspects of the area right in our city,? said Martindale.
For more information, phone Jenny Martindale at 521-6678.