Coulonge River to get protected area status, but where?

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Deb Powell

BRISTOL – Expanding protection for the main branch of the Coulonge River and abandoning the proposed protected area on the east branch of the river were the topics at a November 26 information meeting in Bristol; Marc-André Bouchard from the Ministry of the Environment came from Quebec City to present the proposals.

Deb Powell

BRISTOL – Expanding protection for the main branch of the Coulonge River and abandoning the proposed protected area on the east branch of the river were the topics at a November 26 information meeting in Bristol; Marc-André Bouchard from the Ministry of the Environment came from Quebec City to present the proposals.
The main-branch proposal covers 366.6 km2 and is the better option, Bouchard argued, since it protects more of the river valley and includes a greater variety of eco-
systems.  The proposal is also better for the forestry industry because it opens more areas for logging. For canoe-campers, the river shore-line is kept intact.
Dennis Blaedow from Davidson, tourism representative and advocate for river protection argued that the east branch of the Coulonge should also be protected, since it is the last local ‘wild river’. “There is a lot less traffic on that part of the river,” he said. “That makes it very good for canoe trips.” Blaedow was very appreciative of Bouchard’s work in establishing Quebec’s network of Protected Areas. In the ‘90s the Friends of the Pontiac’s Rivers pushed for a
canoeing park linking the Coulonge and Black Rivers.
The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MERN)’s opposition to the main-channel proposal, due to the hydro potential on the lower part of the Coulonge, raised audience concern. Pierre Labrecque, organizer of the session and director of the Regional Commission for Natural Resources and Public Land (CRRNTO), offered the region’s support in
opposition to any hydro dams. Bouchard said
Hydro Quebec must be made aware that such dams are not socially acceptable. A hydro project, he said, would face environmental hearings (BAPE); if promoters knew public opinion was against them, that might discourage moving to BAPE hearings.
No decision yet
There is no final decision on any protected area on the Coulonge.  Besides the river’s hydroelectric potential, there are 40 mining claims here with expiry dates from March, 2015, to April, 2016, which could affect the boundaries of any protected zone. Bouchard said this will take 10 more months and must be approved by government committee. Given approval at that level, there will be public BAPE hearings.
Quebec is setting up a network of Protected Areas totaling 12% of the area of the province, by 2015. Protected areas are, said the MDDELCC, designed to preserve species and their genetic variability as well as maintain natural processes and ecosystems that sustain life. Cultural and economic factors are also taken into account. Quebec’s protected areas are part of an international movement that began with the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by 193 countries at the Rio Summit in 1992.