Where eagles dare not go

OPINION

The fight to save the Pine River in Madawaska Valley encounters a bizarre clash of valuesCommercial logging has traditionally been the main threat to Canadian forests. But now other competing interests join the foray leaving conservationists baffled.

“Wheresoever the carcass is; there the eagles shall be found gathered together.” New Testament

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.

A little known canoe route, The Pine River is situated southeast of Algonquin Park in Killaloe Hagarty Richards Township.
Upper Pine Lake is protected as a Nature Reserve. When it drains out of Algonquin Park it is vulnerable to logging.

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.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To confront only the essential facts of life … and see if I could not learn what they had to teach …”– Thoreau

Social scientists warn the “self-making” culture can do more harm than good to vulnerable individuals.

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.

Rave organizers argue a 10ft. inflatable unicorn on Lower Pine lake is an equally justified use as a canoe or kayak in the
interior.

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.

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation …”– Thoreau

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.

Satellite image of Lower Pine Lake showing it vulnerable to entertainment activities from an adjacent 100 acre woodlot to the northwest.
Map showing forest stands in green scheduled for harvest along Lower Pine Lake.

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:

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever allow the remaining wilderness to be destroyed… if we pollute the last clean air…dirty the last clean waters and push our roads through the last of the silence.”– Wallace Stegner

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.

Author takes one last glance of the Pine Valley below, destined in weeks to be reduced to an “abomination of desolation.”

About the author: Christopher Huggett is a retired conservation biologist living in Killaloe Hagarty Richards.

4 Comments

  1. Joyce Winfield

    I grieve for people who have no sense of mystery, who seem unable to be touched by the beauty of creation, the whisper of a breeze, the distant call of a loon, the gentle washing of the water against the shore, the discovery of a perfect flower beside a trail. There is no peace or well-being in the ugliness often found in our modern world. Wake up, your souls are withering! Come to the wilderness and accept what it has to offer, without bringing entertainment of your own. You might be surprised, and return home restored and refreshed. There’s real life in the woods, not a counterfeit!

  2. Al Best

    Thanks for the story Chris. I remember canoeing the Pine River and launching at the bridge before it was washed out in a big storm sometime in the 80’s. I remember dragging my canoe over the beaver dams along the river on the way to Upper Pine Lake and the steep climb at the log dam when arriving at the lake. I remember the Ranger cabin on the lake (I understand that it is long gone) and I remember some decent pike in the swim in those crystal clear waters. It seems that next quarter’s numbers matter more than those kinds of memories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top
Comment Rules

  • Please show respect to the opinions of others no matter how seemingly far-fetched.
  • Abusive, foul language, and/or divisive comments may be deleted without notice.
  • In order to avoid confusion in the community, commenters must provide their full name (first and last) and a valid email address.
  • Comments must be limited to the number of words displayed above the comment box.

Verified by MonsterInsights