By Susan Casey-Lefkowitz
The political opposition in Manitoba, Canada has revived a proposal to run a major hydropower transmission line directly through the boreal forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. It’s an odd choice for an election issue. The current government had already made a decision to work with local communities to protect one of North America’s most outstanding sanctuaries for woodland caribou, timber wolves and songbirds – the Heart of the Boreal – as a World Heritage Site. That means that local communities make decisions about what to protect and how to encourage environmentally healthy development. It means that there can be local roads and businesses, but that the bulk of this untouched wilderness of emerald forests, marshes, lakes, and rivers is recognized for its ecological and cultural values. It means no industrial transmission line in a part of the province where the wilderness values are so high.
Manitoba has made an interesting choice around placement of the transmission line and one that should resonate in the United States as well. Our need for energy is often in conflict with our need to protect special places. Manitoba decided that the Heart of the Boreal region was so valuable that it was worth paying more to put the industrial transmission line elsewhere. In fact, what I suspect Manitoba realized, is that developed corridors should always be preferred over wildlands. Even if the cost appears to be greater, in reality developers usually fail to include the cost of the controversies that accompany efforts to build in untouched places. These can include special mitigation measures, delays, litigation, and the need for additional public relations and outreach – all of which cost money. This is a lesson to learn from as we face conflicts over how to get energy to the markets where it is needed. The on-the-face monetary cost of a project is not the only thing to consider: ecological and cultural values of the land should be considered equally with other aspects of where a transmission line goes.
The international environmental community has long supported the efforts of local First Nations communities to establish a World Heritage Site in this region – called Pimachiowin Aki. The site would span 10.6 million acres in Manitoba and Ontario and encompass two provincial parks in addition to First Nations traditional territories. A hydropower transmission line through this region would seriously jeopardize the World Heritage Site nomination.
Already several years ago, NRDC designated this region as an international BioGem. NRDC members and activists have long recognized the Boreal forest wilderness on the east side of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba as an area of global importance, sending thousands of messages calling for protection over the last few years. Today, our Manitoba environmental partners launched a new website celebrating the Heart of the Boreal. And together with our Manitoba partners, we are once again asking the public to let Manitoba know that the Heart of the Boreal is deserving of permanent protection – and that means no industrial transmission line.
So, stand firm Manitoba. You have the right values in place and made a good decision to move forward with a World Heritage Site nomination that is based on local, First Nations community planning, instead of an industrial transmission line. I think that the opposition will learn that Manitobans value their natural heritage. And I think that they will learn that local communities appreciate having a say in what happens on their traditional lands.