Coulonge, Black and Dumoine Rivers: new protected areas

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Deb Powell & Aidan Belanger

MRC PONTIAC – On Friday, June 17, the Provincial Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, Benoit Charette, announced the government’s intention to create 11 new protected areas, including along the Black and Coulonge rivers in MRC Pontiac and an extension to the planned Rivière-Dumoine aquatic reserve, straddling the Pontiac and Témiscamingue MRCs. Together, they cover over 1,000 km2. These areas have been selected by the government, taking into account the regional and Indigenous consultation work done by the Ministry
of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change.

The Natural Heritage Conservation Act specifies that a protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, by any
effective means, legal or otherwise, in order to ensure the long-term conservation of the ecosystem. Any activity carried out in a protected area must preserve the area’s essential biological character. Minister Responsible for the Outaouais Region, Mathieu Lacombe, stated that Quebec’s network of protected areas provides wonderful outdoor spaces where families can relax and recharge. “In Outaouais, these have been very popular places since the start of the pandemic. I am therefore delighted to see the protected territory expand for current and future generations, in the Outaouais as elsewhere in Quebec.”

MRC Warden Jane Toller shared a similar sentiment, “I was extremely happy to hear this announcement, and believe that these protected areas will be a great benefit to attract new residents and tourists to the area.”

She also acknowledged both CREDDO (Conseil régional de l’environnement et du développement durable de l’Outaouais) and CPAWS Ottawa Valley (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Ottawa Valley Chapter) for their dedication and leadership in their consultation efforts for these protected areas and said she looked forward to continuing working with them to ensure the projects are successful.

Ecological benefits of protected land include the production of oxygen, the regeneration of soils, the reduction of pollutants, the improvement of climatic conditions, and the regulation and purification of waterways.

Protected areas are also recognized as an essential tool for adapting to climate change, as they allow carbon to be stored. As well, they make it possible to obtain unique data on the functioning of undisturbed ecosystems and the species within it along with measuring the impact of human activities on these natural environments. Economically, protected areas promote the diversification of local and regional economies and support tourism and ecotourism industries. They also contribute to maintaining populations of wildlife species for hunting, fishing and trapping. Finally, protected areas accessible to citizens are recognized as being beneficial for their physical and mental health.

Over the past three years, CREDDO and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Ottawa Valley Chapter (CPAWS-OV) led consultations with regional stakeholders and have stated these will continue. Their vision of the Coulonge and Black River protected area includes the east branch of the Coulonge River; the government announcement implied possible “wiggle room” saying “the boundaries and total area of the new territories announced are still approximate and are subject to change”. Geneviève Le Blanc, Director of Conservation for CPAWS-OV said, “The consultations will allow the population of the Pontiac and local experts to express themselves on the places they wish to see included in the protected area. Our teams are delighted that the government is open to expanding the project through community input.”

Andre Fortin, MNA for MRC Pontiac, told the Journal the statement of intent by the Government of Quebec is excellent news, and something that he and the MRC Council of Mayors have been working towards for quite some time. “The areas hold a very high ecological value and have a high potential for recreation and touristic development. As such, the economic impact for our area is undeniable.”

The next steps in the coming months will be consulting on the limits of the protected areas and how they will be managed, including in terms of tourism development. “Everyone involved from tourism to environmental groups to the MRC and myself, will be working to have this in place as soon as possible.” Fortin said.Information about the new protected areas can be found at http://www.
creddo.ca/protected-area, which includes a 7-minute video highlighting the territory and some of the people who use it.