THUNDER BAY — Friends of Wabakimi, a 250-member group of wilderness paddlers and recreational businesses, is lobbying for the preservation of new areas adjacent to the large wilderness park northwest of Lake Nipigon.
On Victoria Day weekend, several members will embark on an eight-day canoe trip to gather information they hope will support their call for expanded protections in the forest just to the east of the 9,000-square-kilometre park.
The expedition is a partnership with Ontario Nature, which plans to conduct a simultaneous survey of breeding birds in the area.
Vern Fish of Waterloo, Iowa is the president of Friends of Wabakimi.
He says the group has participated in the Ontario government's planning process for the Wabadowgang Noopming Forest in the Armstrong area.
It's proposed four new Conservation Reserves and limitations on planned logging roads within a designated woodland caribou special area of concern.
"We've identified some areas where we just feel they're better as protected areas rather than active logging areas. We've submitted those comments under phase three of the planning process," Fish told TBnewswatch.
He said the upcoming canoe trip will give FOW a chance to paddle and document the waterways in what's known as the D'Alton Block, where there's an unusually high concentration of interconnected small lakes.
"This area has many historic canoe routes with stellar wilderness values," he said, adding that the group is excited to partner with Ontario Nature to promote greater habitat protection outside the park boundaries.
"It's a former caribou habitat. There's a very nice chain of paddling lakes there. We feel it should have a greater level of protection. It doesn't necessarily have to be a provincial park. It could be a conservation reserve or some other level of protection...This trip is kind of a way to wave the flag and to say 'this area is important.' "
Fish said there's currently some logging in the vicinity of the chain of lakes, and that the operators are required to maintain a buffer.
"I believe they're doing that. I have no reason to believe they're not doing that," he commented.
For Kristen Setala, the upcoming trip is also an opportunity for her to gather data for Ontario's third Breeding Bird Atlas.
Setala is the Community Science intern for Ontario Nature, based in Thunder Bay.
According to Ontario Nature, habitat loss is the greatest threat to breeding birds in Canada.
Setala's work involves mapping their distribution and relative abundance across Northern Ontario.
"This trip is a great demonstration or combining efforts and resources for a common goal of protecting natural spaces and species," she said.
It's just one of many similar birding expeditions happening this summer across Ontario.
The Atlas-3 project will continue until 2025.
Last year alone, more than 1,000 volunteers participated.