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Welcome to WCS Canada’s Ring of Fire hub!

WCS Canada is a non-profit organization of scientists who have been working in northern Ontario since 2004 to support the conservation of fish and wildlife, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems in the region, ecosystem services related to storage of water and ecosystem services related to storage of water and carbon, and threats like contaminants. We also work with a number of First Nation communities to support their research and monitoring priorities and vision for their homelands, particularly First Nations protected areas. We have been engaged in government-led impact assessment and land use planning processes affecting the species, ecosystems, and communities in the region since 2009.

We developed this space for three reasons: 

to highlight nature and people in a conversation that has mostly been about money and minerals

to amplify the voices of First Nations and scientists in the planning process and public conversation

to archive news and resources for scientists, advocates, reporters, and local governments

Ecosystems, communities, mining claims, and peatlands in the Ring of Fire (click the arrows to scroll through the maps). Meg Southee/WCS Canada (CC BY-SA 2.0)

What is the so-called Ring of Fire?

The so-called “Ring of Fire” is a mineral resource region located in the far north region of Ontario about 540km northeast of Thunder Bay and 1,000km north of Toronto. Named by a team of mining executives and prospecting geologists in 2007, the Ring of Fire has been defined by the size and shape of the mineral deposits (and the permitted mineral claims) covering up to 5,000 square kilometres. The Ring of Fire could turn into a mega-project, defined as a large-scale, complex venture that typically costs $1 billion or more, takes many years to build, involves multiple public and private stakeholders, is transformational, and impacts millions of people. These kinds of projects have the capacity to profoundly alter the structure of a society through economic (and environmental) transformation of a region.

While mining companies and the Ontario government have been trying to push the region for its potential economic opportunities, the business case still remains unknown. To date, there have been no cost-benefit analyses of the region and some skepticism about public and government claims. For example, Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry are largely focused on the economic potential and importance of the Ring of Fire. In 2015, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce estimated roughly $25 billion in “economic activity” over the next three decades based on the deposits of chromite, nickel, and copper in the Ring of Fire. However, they noted a year later that was little progress. The Northern Ontario Policy Institute also questioned whether the Ring of Fire was still “Ontario’s Oil Sands.”

Brook Trout

More recently, Ontario has reframed the economic value of the Ring of Fire as one about “critical minerals”, including copper, nickel, and chromite.  The uncertain economic potential of region together with the lack of all-season infrastructure to get minerals to market has dominated our understanding of the issues, opportunities, and value of the region. Yet, there is more to this region than minerals, mining, and roads.

This sub-Arctic and boreal region is defined by ecological values that are both unique and in some cases globally significant including being part of the largest, intact boreal forest in the world, one of the largest peatland and wetland complexes in the world, habitats for species designated at risk by federal and provincial regulators including caribou, wolverine and lake sturgeon, migratory shorebirds, nesting songbirds, and species of cultural value and significance to First Nations living throughout the region such as moose, waterfowl, and fish.

This region is a homeland to Indigenous Peoples, First Nations who have lived on the land and kept its lands, waters, wildlife, rocks, minerals, and other relatives healthy and abundant since time before memory. The Ililiwak, Ininiwak, Inninuwug, and Anishinaabeg Nations are the only population living in the region and as the stewards of the land, retain deep connections and jurisdiction over the future of the region – its protection and development.

First Nations relationships with settler governments like Canada and Ontario are governed by Treaty No. 9 and First Nations communities have been engaged with provincial and federal governments on issues related to land use planning, resource development, conservation and protection of fish and wildlife, and impact assessment across the region since at least the 1970s when Ontario mandated the Ontario Royal Commission on the Northern Environment to consider the opportunities and “adverse effects” of a proponent’s proposal for large-scale timber harvest.

Yellow Watercolour

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