Protected areas in Québec :
There are some 1,100 natural sites in Québec that meet the definition of "protected area", as follows: "areas of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means".
All these natural sites are regulated and administered according to the 17 different judicial or administrative designations. Among such designations, we might mention wildlife habitats, national parks, Québec parks, ecological reserves, salmon rivers, and the list goes on. The status of protected area corresponds to one of the six major international categories of protected areas as defined in 1994 by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
By adhering to these standards, Québec has designated 2.8% of its land in the form of protected areas.
Protected areas are primarily designed to preserve species and their genetic variability as well as maintaining the natural processes and ecosystems that sustain life in its various expressions.
Protected areas are not the only mechanism for maintaining biodiversity, but they certainly constitute the cornerstone on which every government must rely to attain the objectives of the preservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as respecting the commitments made pursuant to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Protected areas have the utmost to offer in terms of the ecology, such as the production of oxygen, the creation and protection of soil, the absorption and reduction of pollutants, the improvement in local and regional weather conditions, the conservation of groundwater aquifers, and the flow control and purification of watercourses. It is the surest and cheapest way to protect species and natural settings.
Protected areas are laboratories in nature. At any given time, they can provide us with unique data on how ecosystems function and on the species that live there. They are also are a prized setting for people’s recreational and outdoor activities that contribute to our physical and mental well-being.
In terms of economic benefits, protected areas are a boon for the diversification of local and regional economies. They help preserve a biological potential that constitutes a renewable natural resource on which certain activities depend, such as is the case with hunting, fishing and trapping. They contribute to the tourist industry in a very significant way, particularly ecotourism, which is gaining rapidly in popularity.
These days, protected areas represent one of the major components for the sustainable management of forests.
Québec must adopt a new approach to this issue that is integrated, unified, cohesive and likely to be embraced by all:
Such an approach should allow for:
To attain these lofty objectives, Québec must accomplish these interventions through three major approaches.
Building upon past achievements and focusing on the network
Québec already has in place a series of legislative and administrative mechanisms suitable for the creation of newly protected areas. Indeed, it now has better knowledge of its biodiversity and has culled information on certain natural settings that merit protection. In addition to having already set up several protected areas, Québec took the appropriate steps to put certain other areas aside for such purpose.
Beyond such achievements, what is now needed is a unified viewpoint, or a more harmonized intervention framework for enhancing our protected areas. The time has come to update the concept of an "integrated network" according to which each stakeholder, while remaining independent, will allow for the reaching of common objectives to protect a representative sampling of Québec’s biodiversity, the sharing of common data bases, and the development of actions focused on a more complementary intervention of actions and the sharing of responsibilities.
Boosting the number, the percentage of land and the representativeness of protected areas
The objective set by Québec for 2005 is to designate somewhere near 8% of its land in the form of protected area.
A step to carry out is the compilation of representative samples of Québec's entire biological diversity. The network must therefore concentrate on protecting samples representative of its biological diversity.
Promoting solidarity with regard to protected areas
Promoting solidarity among citizens and authorities – both public and private – responsible for developing and managing resources and land, with regard to protected areas is needed. It is the best way to guarantee a broader network of protected areas that is integrated, of good quality and that meets everyone's aspirations. Solidarity means that Québec's protected areas will become a challenge for Québec society as a whole whose accomplishment will represent a feat of which all citizens will be proud.
Acknowledging the need to improve the situation of protected areas in Québec, the government has set out a series of global principles and strategic guidelines; its commitments on this topic can be summarized as follows:
The government mandates the Minister of the Environment to coordinate the work of an interdepartmental committee charged with the preparation of a draft Québec Strategy for Protected Areas. The draft report must be sumitted jointly with the Minister responsible for Wildlife and Parks and the Minister of Natural Resources for government adoption within one year's time.
- In 1998, the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Faune (today the Ministère de l’Environnement), kicked off, in cooperation with interdepartmental task forces, a study on protected areas. It has already published a directory and cartographical reference on Québec's protected areas, made observations and established approaches, as well as identifying current intervention programs with regard to protected areas.
- Developing a strategy for protected areas requires close collaboration with all concerned departments and agencies. An interdepartmental committee coordinated by the Ministère de l’Environnement will be formed to this end. In addition to this department, the committee will also include representatives from the Société de la faune et des parcs and the Ministère des Ressources naturelles, among other stakeholders.
In order to direct the drafting of the Québec Strategy for Protected Areas, the government has adopted the global principles and strategic orientations, as follows:
Officially recognize the importance, on the ecological, economic and social levels, of protected areas and their benefits for all of Québec.
- It is a sort of group insurance policy on nature that Québec is taking out to fulfill its objectives and commitments with regard to the preservation of biological diversity and sustainable development.
- The adoption of a strategy for protected areas is a cornerstone in maintaining an open and unrestricted access to foreign markets for its biological resources.
Adopt objectives and strategies with a view to expanding the present-day network of protected areas:
- The network of protected areas in Québec will focus on the preservation of representative sampling of our biodiversity, both on land and water, and in lakes and rivers alike.
- The network shall also attempt to preserve sensitive areas or exceptional settings as well as the habitats of threatened or vulnerable species.
Integrate protected areas into all processes governing the use of land, the allocation of resources, as well as the rights and privileges linked to public land and resources
- The government pledges that all plans for the use of land in the public domain, development schemes, regional strategies, the allocation of resources and the granting of rights shall take into consideration the need to establish a network of protected areas in Québec.
Encourage the participation of the major stakeholders and concerned organizations in the drafting of a strategy on protected areas. Native communities will also be called upon to contribute to this project. Before submitting the draft report to the government, public consultations will be held.
Step up efforts to facilitate the conservation of protected areas on privately owned land by individuals, non-government conservation organizations and the private sector in general.
Ascertain the means with which to implement the strategy as well as the financial and economic fallout associated therewith.
The adoption of a strategy for protected areas constitutes a substantial investment that Québec intends to make to reap far-reaching benefits, even though some may appear intangible at first glance. Such investments could be made primarily as follows:
- Updating our ecological expertise needed to validate the current choice of sites to be protected and determining new priorities.
- Consulting and cooperating with the general public and interest groups.
- Setting aside certain tracts of public land for the express creation of protected areas.
- Speeding up the process to designate protected areas already chosen or set aside for such purpose.
- Adopting measures to promote participation from the public in protecting natural sites on private land.