The fight to save the Pine River in Madawaska Valley encounters a bizarre clash of values — Commercial logging has traditionally been the main threat to Canadian forests. But now other competing interests join the foray leaving conservationists baffled.
Two Bald Eagles fly northward past my remote sanctuary hundreds of feet above the valley floor. The endangered raptors, each with a six-foot wing-span, fly toward Upper Pine Lake in Algonquin Park. A young black bear has also shared this stunning granite monument to admire the view. His round tracks in the snow surround me. Several kilometres to the west I hear the brief retort of a chainsaw from a distant oak ridge. Below, along Pine River Road, an Algonquin Red Wolf has crossed a beaver dam replete with ample evidence of American Fisher and other wildlife. I briefly gaze at the horizon and with the sun I descend, ice-axe clenched in my arthritic hands. Above: The Lower Pine River was originally to be protected during Premier Mike Harris’ “Lands for Life” process decades ago. The designation was later arbitrarily removed by bureaucrats exposing it now to commercial exploitation. All photos courtesy the author.
This section of the Pine River watershed is emerging as a battleground of competing interests. Preserve the grandeur of its magnificent landscape for the rightful non-human owners which have called it home for millennia; the bear, moose, hawks, and countless others soon to teeter on the brink of extinction … or allow industry fueled by an ideology of unfettered growth with its unrelenting offensive aimed at subjugating Nature into a “managed state” for resource extraction?
Now another bizarre juggernaut has been thrown into the ecological matrix. Enter an influx of urban entertainment seekers thirsting for unbridled amusement that is often only afforded in a remote setting where noise and festivities escape the eye of the authorities and the public. These are the “Rave/ Burning Man” enthusiasts. Growing competing interests have concocted a form of virulent blue-green algae. It poisons Nature, which as always comes out the loser.
How attempting to satisfy the craving to return to Nature has gone drastically wrong
A child is only enthralled by what he/she does not understand. A mystery is only a mystery when it remains a mystery. Through our insatiable desire to explain every phenomenon in the universe both the mysteries and the secrets of Nature have been lost. The 1990s introduced an addictive digital mayhem marketed to the unwary with untold virtual possibilities: tablets, PCs, smartphones and Alexas. Modernity downgraded Nature to a backward, mundane past-time for the non-progressive intellect. But the forbidden fruit was consumed.
Every action … is followed by a reaction
Now the environmental pendulum has swung into the next generation. It follows the blunt realization that the digital age’s unlimited potential has paradoxically kept humanity trapped, empty, isolated and unfulfilled. History’s books were burned, scarified for the desire for novelty and nobody has learned.
Untold urban hordes are fighting the frenzy of deer flies flocking to the outdoors, often with disastrous consequences for themselves and the natural world. The former Ottawa Valley’s stronghold for ageing hippies is witnessing a new social order. They arrive from southern Ontario’s metropolitan centres, in convoys of Volkswagen, Lexus and other high-end SUVs , tattooed, bizarrely dressed (or hardly at all) and wearing pink-coloured glasses. They startle wildlife, resident hunters, fisherman and woodcutters. Traditional canoe trippers cringe.
Like the clandestine illegal marijuana industry, remote woodlots (usually hunt camps) are being snapped-up in the Ottawa Valley, as venues for “Rave Events,” with Burning Man as their dominant theme. The fad started in California, Texas and other US states decades ago. Bancroft, Killaloe and other eastern Ontario townships have emerged as Canada’s equivalent northern stomping grounds.
Alarmingly the Pine River Watershed has become the latest casualty where questionable festive activities on private woodlots have spilled onto public waterfront. Here an amusement park of inflatables, docks and amplified electronic music pollute the pristine air of Lower Pine Lake. Advertised online to a target clientele, more than 75 desperate young people have escaped their equally untenable metropolitan apartments to engage in nothing short of unbridled revelry. The question emerges … it this appropriate use for a wilderness area … ? Event organizers apparently believe so. Inflatable water toys are comparable cousins to canoes and kayaks they argue, and without legislation banning them they are becoming a permanent fixture in the remote back-country.
On the western front the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has shone another “green” light for industry to commence cutting the red pine and oak stands on either side of Lower Pine Lake. The Ministry argues that the opportunity has passed to modify or object to the Ottawa Valley Forest Management Plan and cutting must commence starting this year. Negotiations between conservationists and industry stakeholders were stonewalled in September 2023. Attempts failed to even defer cutting in under-aged pine stands of marginal economic value. The future of the Pine River Watershed looks bleak. Hope seems gone to link it to its northern namesake in Algonquin Park and to the Bonnechere River in the south.
I stumble down the cliff following the tracks of the previous visitor. I wonder how that black bear feels as he weaves his way through the boulder field. I remove my day-pack, toss it into my 4×4 vehicle, take a swig of green tea and cast a final glance at the beaver dam. I shake my head. The words of author Wallace Stegner come to mind:
I try to console myself with the adage that in higher aspirations, the important thing is not to achieve but to strive. But who is to blame? Public indifference and a lack of awareness? It’s hard for me to fight back the bitterness.
About the author: Christopher Huggett is a retired conservation biologist living in Killaloe Hagarty Richards.