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Tuesday, September 19, 1989 By Timothy Appleby and Richard Mackie The Globe and Mail with The Canadian Press

Ontario Opposition Leader Bob Rae was one of 16 people arrested yesterday in Northern Ontario's Temagami forest, after a day-long protest against plans to log the environmentally sensitive area.

Those arrested were cautioned to stay away from the protest area or face criminal charges.

Mr. Rae said later he had no regrets about his actions in seeking to protect the lush woodland - for decades a favorite haunt for canoeists and naturalists - because "we're reaching the crunch.

"If we don't protect the old forest now, it's clear that it's going to go," he said in a telephone interview from Elk Lake after his release.

"It's a habitat which all the scientists tell us is unique - the largest stand in all North America of old red and white pine.

"Species are dying out every year."

The protest was organized by the Temagami Wilderness Society. A spokesman for the group said about 130 people were involved, while police counted about 70.

The New Democratic Party leader and the other protesters had gathered to prevent construction workers from pushing through an access road into the forest about 100 kilometres north of North Bay.

About 20 OPP officers arrived at the site about 3 p.m. in response to a call from the construction firm, whose heavy equipment was being blocked by the demonstrators.

Two of the protesters were buried up to their necks in sand and dirt in front of a bridge.

"The construction workers were there lawfully so we arrested (the protesters)," Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant Irving Sloss said from the detachment at Elk Lake, about 85 kilometres from the protest site. "It went along pretty smooth."

The protesters were taken in police vans to a Natural Resources Ministry building in Elk Lake, where they were cautioned not to return to the protest site and released.

A battle over logging the area has been simmering for years. It contains one of the last old-growth pine forests in eastern North America. Environmentalists want the entire 1,600-square-kilometre Temagami forest made into a wildlands reserve.

A native land claim is also unresolved.

The government says logging will not destroy the pristine wilderness, and local loggers say they will lose their jobs if the industry is threatened.

Last week, the Ontario Supreme Court rejected a provincial government request for an injunction preventing logging opponents from approaching within 500 metres of the road, which the government is anxious to complete by the end of the year.

Although Mr. Rae's presence at the demonstration was welcomed by society members, Bob Bain, president of the provincial NDP riding association in Timiskaming, was critical of the party leader's involvement.

''He should have consulted with the riding association before plunging into the middle of this,'' Mr. Bain said. ''His approach is typical to people in Toronto who never get outside the city except on summer vacations.'' Mr. Rae said, "I feel very strongly about the native land claim. And I feel very strongly about the future of the park if they expand logging." There are other political considerations at issue, he added.

He would not elaborate, but the region's MPP is Agriculture Minister David Ramsay, who is considered to be vulnerable because of recent shut- downs of mines in the area and because jobs he promised in the 1987 election have not materialized.

The Temagami issue is not going away and the Peterson government is going to have to deal with it, Mr. Rae concluded.

However, he said he would not return to the protest site today. ''I've been cautioned not to return and I respect that.'' In 1985, federal NDP member of Parliament Svend Robinson was fined for contempt of court for participating in anti-logging protests on British Columbia's Lyell Island.

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