Chippewa challenge lumber company plan to log deer yard

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NORTHERN BRUCE PENINSULA, Ontario - If a lumber company goes ahead with its plan to cut trees in one of Canada's largest white tail deer yards, the traditional hunting grounds of the area's Indian bands will be destroyed, says their chief.

"The area the company proposes to cut is a major deer yard, most of it has been designated as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, and parts of it as provincially significant wetlands," said Chief Ralph Akiwenzie of the Chippewas of Nawash.

An unopened road allowance is the only thing that stands before Northern Bruce Timber Co. Inc.'s plan to cut trees on the environmentally sensitive property.

In a move that outraged environmentalists, residents and the local Indian bands - the Chippewas of Nawash and the Chippewas of Saugeen - the company has asked Northern Bruce Peninsula Council to give it access through the town's unopened road allowance to the company's 1,400 acres of land-locked property at Johnston Harbour.

The Chippewas' hunting ground is less than a mile away from the area the company wants to log.

Akiwenzie and Saugeen Chief Randy Roote were among several people who pleaded with council to refuse the request at a late March council meeting.

Council reserved its decision until it receives a report, due in about two weeks, from a task force on logging white cedar, but the delay did little to reassure area residents.

This could "ruin this beautiful country." Council's "decision will impact my children, my grandchildren and their children," said area resident May Watson.

Resident Peter Tasker said the company is asking council "to give it access to a very sensitive area that in a philosophical sense belongs to all the people who live here and beyond."

Akiwenzie said that his people have hunted deer on the peninsula for generations but gradually over the years their hunting ground has been reduced to a mere few hundred acres.

"Now this could destroy what's left," he said.

Timber company owner Chris Rovers told council the company purchased the property eight months ago.

"What I need is access to that property," he said.

Rovers said he was instrumental in setting up the task force and will be willing to abide by its most stringent recommendations.

He strongly contested claims made by Nawash communications officer David McLaren who told council he had inspected other areas logged by the company.

"I saw wide open areas where white cedar had been cut leaving other trees open to the wind, resulting in a high degree of blow-down (of other trees)," said McLaren.

Rovers questioned McLaren's expertise.

"To the untrained eye it can look disastrous," he said.

Like many logging bylaws all over the province, Bruce County's logging bylaw fails to protect soft trees such as white cedar, said McLaren.

"This problem exists across southern Ontario, the bylaws are not adequate to protect this kind of land," he said.

Nawash land claim researcher Darlene Johnston pointed out that the road allowances around the property are the subject of a Nawash land claim and said no significant changes should be made to the road allowances while the litigation is pending.

The timber company appeared to anticipate a positive response from its first request to council last week and had its tree cutting machinery "poised" on the road allowance ready to move in, said Johnston.

"That had us really worried," she said.

Milt McIver, mayor of the newly amalgamated community of Northern Bruce Peninsula about 150 miles north of Toronto refused to open up the issue for further debate until council has reviewed the task force study and title searches of the road allowances.