Quebec announces new biodiversity reserve along Noire, Coulonge rivers

·3 min read
Quebec has announced plans to create a biodiversity reserve along the Coulonge and Noire rivers. The protected area would cover approximately 822 square kilometres. (Supplied by Cénéndra Poulin - image credit)
Quebec has announced plans to create a biodiversity reserve along the Coulonge and Noire rivers. The protected area would cover approximately 822 square kilometres. (Supplied by Cénéndra Poulin - image credit)

The Quebec government has announced plans to create a sprawling biodiversity reserve in the Outaouais that supporters say will protect species at risk and drive the local economy.

The project, which would set aside 822 square kilometres along the Noire and Coulonge rivers, makes up nearly half of the close to 2,000 square kilometres identified last week as part of 11 new protected areas across the province.

"People want to be outdoors. They want to have this safe space where they can explore nature," said Geneviève Le Blanc, conservation director for the Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

"That's why we need more protected area, to keep [it accessible for] the long term for all of these people who enjoy it."

Le Blanc's organization has been working with the regional environmental council and local officials to push for the project, which the province signalled support for in 2018 but didn't initially act on.

Four years later, Le Blanc said, the news of 10 other protected sites suggests things are now different. The area selected by the government is also a bit larger than CPAWS expected, she added.

"Seeing that they acted on it was really, really exciting, because it means that this is moving forward and not just empty promises."

The purple area on this map shows the proposed reserve:

'It's still going to be a playground'

A statement from Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette referred to protected areas as "one of the best tools" to promote long-term conservation.

Currently the area along the rivers only has administrative protection, according to Le Blanc, a designation that could be lifted at any time.

But creating a biodiversity reserve will bar heavy industry from the area, she explained, while still permitting businesses like whitewater rafting and hiking companies that draw visitors to the Pontiac.

"We call it a protected area, but the really key thing to understand is that it's not some place you won't be able to access anymore. It's still going to be a playground for people to enjoy," said Le Blanc.  "They can still go hunting and fishing and trapping."

Jane Toller, warden for the regional municipality of Pontiac, said she was "very proud" of the government's announcement.

"It is very important to protect the health of the Coulonge River and the Noire River," she said. "What we want to prevent is heavy industrial or forestry right beside the river."

Supplied by Cénéndra Poulin
Supplied by Cénéndra Poulin

Toller said the biodiversity reserve has the potential to become a flagship of the local economy.

The area is seeing "population explosions," she said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired people living in cities to go experience the wilderness.

Calling for community involvement

Building a network of protected areas from Gatineau Park up to the Pontiac will also allow plants and animals to flourish, said Le Blanc.

Despite the good news, Le Blanc said the announcement marks just the first step. Those involved in the project will now work to determine the exact boundaries and parameters for the protected area.

They'll also gather input from Indigenous communities and consult with locals. The groups behind the effort are hoping the reserve will be in place by 2025.

"We want the people for the community to be involved in the managing, rather than just somebody in their office in Quebec City," Le Blanc said.

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