The Ring of Fire hosts deposits of chromite and other valuable rare earth metals (Dyer and Burke, 2012). The construction of a year-round corridor would not only facilitate the development of these resources bringing economic growth to the region, but also provide valuable social benefits to the surrounding communities (Hitch, 2012). A positive to researching this area is that there are proposed mines ready for development, meaning corridor construction would cause immediate benefits (Jennish, 2012).
An area of northern Ontario approximately 350 km north of Thunder Bay has been selected to run the model. A suitable area to create the corridor proposed is from 85 to 91 degrees west and 51 to 54 degrees north creating a 420 km by 333 km box (Figure 1). This study area hosts the starting location of Pickle Lake, along with the end location of near development Ring of Fire mineral claims. These points were chosen for several reasons. Firsty, with a population of 425 permanent residents, Pickle Lake is the closest town with pre-existing year-round road access via Secondary Highway 599. For the end location, the southern portion of the Ring of Fire deposits will be used. The claims in this area are the closest to becoming working mines and are controlled by Norton Resources Ltd. and KWG Resources Inc. (Jennish, 2012), these are highlighted in red in Figure 1. A mineral claim box represents an area that has been declared by the prospector for any geologic resources contained (Government of Ontario, 2017). Additionally, these companies have also suggested a starting location of Pickle Lake, reinforcing this decision for the transportation corridor (Jennish, 2012).
Figure 1: Map showing the important characteristics of the study area pertaining to a year round corridor within the study area
The environmental characteristics vary between the eastern and western sides of the study area. The eastern side is classified as the James Bay Lowlands observable as the distinct shift in green colour on the right side of Figure 1. This portion of the total study area is characterized by extensive continuous bogs and fens which are becoming more important as they are disappearing in southern Ontario (Dyer and Burke, 2012; Government of Ontario, 2015). These cover 64 379 km2 of the total 139 860 km2 study area. The other major biome for the area is boreal forest which covers the western portion of the study extent having a total area of 37 478 km2. Many different types of species use these two ecosystems including Woodland Caribou, Lake Sturgeon and the Canadian Warbler, all of which are endangered (Chiasson et al., 1997; Naylor, 1994; Vors et al., 2007). The study extent is also home to approximately 6,081 km of streams and 5,390 km2 of lakes, which are more concentrated in the western portion. Finally, the study area has little topographic variation throughout, with highs being around 300 m and 200 m for the western and eastern portions respectively.
The study area also includes small towns such as Landsdowne House, Summer Beaver, and Kasabonika, along with First Nation reserves like Wunnumin, Fort Hope, and Webequie (Figure 1). Having a corridor come within close proximity to these locations would be beneficial to these communities (Chongvilaivan et al., 2016). Part of the study area is also located in what is classified as the Far North by the Ontario Government. The area is, therefore, included under the Far North Act with the goal to “support the environmental, social and economic objectives for land use planning for the peoples of Ontario” while also “setting out a joint planning process between the First Nations and Ontario” (Government of Ontario, 2010). Incorporating First Nations will be important to the project, as without their support and involvement, development will be difficult.