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Areas of ecological interest

Loss and alteration of habitats are the biggest threats to biodiversity. Wetlands are particularly sensitive habitats. They are very important for both fauna and flora because they allow many species to carry out all or part of their life cycle and they contribute to the purification of water and the regulation of water levels. The marine biodiversity of the St. Lawrence River also merits particular attention because the pressures put on marine ecosystems are becoming greater and greater.

Projects 2021-2026

Consolidate the portrait of other conservation measures and improve structures for acquiring information

The 2021-2026 period will see unprecedented government investment in conservation. In Quebec, there will be major changes in legislation directly targeting biodiversity protection. This SLAP project therefore plans to adapt to these new realities. In Quebec, the Wetlands and Water Conservation Act requires all regional county municipalities to inventory wetlands and water areas of interest by June 2022 through the preparation of regional plans.

At the present time, the Quebec Protected Areas Registry External linkcontains 30 protected area designations. As a complement to this register, this project aims to compile information on other conservation measures of natural areas under private ownership.

The project aims to complete the update of the Quebec Protected Areas Registry with respect to protected areas under private ownership and to establish new protected area designations and conservation measures for territories other than protected areas.

Implement the integrated conservation plan for the St. Lawrence natural environment

Biodiversity and natural environment conservation organizations now have access to two valuable digital resources: the Atlas of Sites of Conservation Interest in the St. Lawrence Lowlandsand the Atlas of Coastal Areas of Conservation Interest in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence.  New data will be periodically added to the tools to update the information and sites of interest and to link the results of the estuary/gulf atlas with the work of identifying marine protected areas and other marine environments of interest.

In a context of climate change, protecting habitats and restoring habitat connectivity in southern Quebec involves the implementation of conservation strategies to promote the movement of species to suitable habitat niches.

This SLAP project aims to engage the community, regional stakeholders and governments in biodiversity conservation and land-use planning actions in Quebec, using the atlases made available to them.

 

Joint ecological and biodiversity monitoring program in protected areas

Protected areas are considered natural reserves of biodiversity. However, improved monitoring is required to ensure that their natural integrity and biodiversity are maintained over the long term. The ability to detect change is essential because of the pressures that can affect protected areas, such as climate change, invasive alien species and general land use. The SLAP joint biodiversity monitoring program will strengthen partnerships and include coastal environments along the St. Lawrence.

To date, only a few protected areas have been fully sampled. Under SLAP 2021-2026, implementing the joint ecological and biodiversity monitoring program in the different types of protected areas remains a priority. To achieve this project, pre-specified indicators will be sampled annually in three to four protected areas. The 17 selected protected areas along the St. Lawrence will therefore be analyzed at least once during the 2021-2026 period. The joint monitoring program could also be extended to other protected areas through the integration of various partners. Lastly, the project will make it possible to produce an initial assessment of the ecological status and biodiversity in the natural environments selected for the joint monitoring program.

Restore functional connectivity of priority areas in the St. Lawrence Lowlands

Through the St. Lawrence Action Plan (SLAP), it has been possible to begin identifying priority natural environments for conservation in southern Quebec. Restoring the connectivity of highly fragmented habitats in southern Quebec will enable movement of species to suitable habitat niches.

In the first phase of this project (2016-2021), ecological corridors were proposed at the scale of the St. Lawrence Lowlands  to maintain and promote movement of terrestrial species. The continuation of this project now aims to analyze ecological connectivity through the distribution and composition of suitable aquatic habitats in the waterways in the St. Lawrence Lowlands.

These analyses will make it possible to evaluate the functional and structural ecological connectivity of these environments within the watersheds and, ultimately, to the St. Lawrence River ecosystem. Conservation and habitat restoration actions will be proposed in order to maintain and optimize aquatic connectivity while paying particular attention to the risk of dispersal of aquatic invasive species. This project will also improve mapping of the wetlands and water environments to be restored.

Restore the shoreline of Lake Saint-Pierre

Lake Saint-Pierre has the largest floodplain in Quebec. During the spring freshet, more than half of the lake’s fish species use the floodplain for spawning or feeding. A significant portion of the lake’s shoreline is also used for agricultural purposes, with areas increasingly being converted to field crops. Current agricultural practices leave little vegetation in the spring that can provide habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. These practices also increase soil erosion and contribute to the decline of farmland bird populations associated with pasture and forage crops.

Since 2012, several riparian buffers and agricultural plots have been restored on the north and south shores of the lake. In addition, wildlife inventories have been conducted at several sites to analyze the response of fish, amphibians, and nesting birds following these developments.

The purpose of this project is to continue habitat restoration efforts in sectors with high potential for wildlife in the littoral zone of Lake Saint-Pierre and to set up an ecological monitoring program to evaluate the long-term effects of such efforts on the Lake Saint-Pierre ecosystem. Indicator species and monitoring protocols will allow us to identify the effects of the actions taken on the biodiversity of the lake and its floodplain. The project will also make it possible to continue wildlife monitoring on the restored sites and to improve the protocols.

Projects 2016-2021

Consolidate the portrait of other conservation measures and improve structures for acquiring information

Until recently, information on privately owned protected areas listed in Quebec’s Register of Protected Areas was incomplete, in terms of both their number and their precise form and location. As part of the 2011-2016 SLAP, our experts developed a georeferenced database to collect, process and validate all the information already compiled in the Directory of Protected Natural Areas of the Réseau de milieux naturels protégés (RMN).

The 2016-2021 period aims to support changes to the database platform to make it more user-friendly in order to encourage its use by stakeholders. This project also aims to continue to update the Quebec’s Register of Protected Areas with respect to privately owned protected areas. The Directory of Protected Natural Areas has become the Directory of Voluntary Conservation Sites in Quebec Le Répertoire : repertoiredesmilieuxnaturels.qc.caExternal link  in French only.

With this new directory and platform, users get a reliable, real-time picture of conservation efforts on private lands. The tools allow for geomatics analysis and more informed decision-making. This SLAP project has not only contributed to the development of atlases of conservation areas, but has also guided municipalities in their land-use planning decisions.

Protect St. Lawrence fish habitats and their connectivity

Throughout their life cycle, fish use a variety of habitats to meet their needs. Ensuring that the habitats they use from hatching to the adult stage are sufficiently abundant, healthy and interconnected is critical to their survival.

This SLAP project aims to identify and maintain connectivity of important fish habitats in the river and its tributaries. It focuses on a wide variety of habitats, such as portions of the floodplain, the mouths of tributary streams, navigable and non-navigable channels, deep pools, harbour areas, and shallow marshes. It will also focus on migration corridors and free passage to meet the needs of migratory species, such as American shad, striped bass, lake sturgeon and American eel, and to assess the risk of invasion by certain exotic species, such as Asian carp.

Information from this project is being compiled in a digital atlas External link( in French only) and has led to the characterization of fish communities and their habitats (2007-2018; Mingelbier et al.,  2019) External link( in French Only) in areas of the port and the St. Lawrence shipping channel that had never been previously explored. This project also highlighted the importance of connectivity in the floodplains of Lake Saint-Pierre and measured losses of northern pike spawning habitat related to agricultural practices and flow regulation in the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers (Foubert et al., 2020).

Give communities the tools they need to conserve natural areas of the St. Lawrence

During the last phase of SLAP (2011-2016), our specialists determined which natural environments (e.g. forests, wetlands, wastelands, aquatic environments, coastal marshes) in the St. Lawrence Lowlands and the coastal areas of the Estuary and Gulf should be prioritized for conservation. The biodiversity of these environments is threatened by urbanization, agriculture and shoreline erosion, among other things.

In order to coordinate conservation efforts and provide local communities with tools, this project consists of providing stakeholders decision-making tools such as maps, reports and analysis results. These tools will serve as a basis for determining the most relevant and effective conservation actions to be carried out in the coming years.

Assess the health and biodiversity of protected areas of the St. Lawrence and adjacent lands

In an earlier phase of SLAP, some 20 ecological indicators were selected to assess the health of the national wildlife areas along the St. Lawrence River and its banks. These indicators include the surface area of habitats and the abundance of certain species of birds, bats and amphibians. At the same time, the development of a Quebec-wide biodiversity monitoring program was initiated.

The objective of this project is to implement an ecological and biodiversity monitoring program in public and private protected areas located along the St. Lawrence River and in adjacent territories. Specialists determine the methods and locations to be sampled and use key indicators to monitor the health of river ecosystems and riparian environments (wetlands and forests).

At the end of this project, citizens will have a report on the common methodology for monitoring protected areas along the St. Lawrence.

Link priority conservation areas to ensure the survival of St. Lawrence Lowland species

The project Atlas of Areas of Conservation Interest in the St. Lawrence Lowlands  has identified the natural environments that should be conserved as a priority in the St. Lawrence Lowlands. However, these areas may be cut off from each other by roads, houses or fields. Animal and plant species must be able to move or spread freely between these environments. Otherwise, it is difficult for them to survive and reproduce.

The experts involved in this study component have the following objective: to map the ecological corridors that link these conservation areas together, while respecting human activity. Priority sites to be conserved for the movement of terrestrial animal species were identified for all the St. Lawrence Lowlands, and scenarios of land use change and climate change were considered to analyze the changes that could occur on these proposed connectivity conservation priorities.
Through this project, local communities, citizens and scientists will have access to the knowledge gained on the priority areas for connectivity and on the proposed methods to link conservation areas through the integration of this knowledge in the Atlas of Areas of Conservation Interest in the St. Lawrence LowlandsExternal link.

Restore the Lake Saint-Pierre shoreline

Lake Saint-Pierre is home to over 280 bird species and 78 fish species. Many species, such as the yellow perch and the brown bullhead, use the calm waters of the lake’s floodplain to feed and reproduce. The lake is used for agriculture after the water recedes, and current practices not only promote soil erosion during spring flooding but also limit the ability of wildlife to access quality habitat. Local communities would like to reconcile farmers’ needs with biodiversity conservation. In the first phase of this project (2011-2016), restoration work was done with farmers, who were encouraged to modify their practices in a way that would maintain protective buffers on both sides of the waterway using vegetation cover that is conducive to maintaining fish and wildlife.

In the second phase (2016-2021), the goal of our experts is to produce a guide of best conservation practices and an atlas of sites that are suitable for restoration to better facilitate local communities' involvement. A mapping of primary conservation sites was established in collaboration with the Lake St-Pierre’s Regional Concertation Table. Our experts also participate in the restoration of certain sites and  follow up to measure the benefits to local wildlife.

Projects 2011-2016

Develop and share unified habitat mapping

Human activity exerts constant pressure on remaining habitats and the species using them. Production of detailed maps of land use and natural environments, including woodlands and wetlands, will assist in identifying areas subjected to the greatest pressure with a view to focusing actions relating to habitat conservation.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Create a portrait of protected areas and other complementarty conservation measures

Numerous administrative and legal means exist for contributing to biodiversity conservation, including acquisition, conservation easements and the establishment of nature reserves and protected areas. The creation of a database of information on all Crown and private land in conjunction with the use of a geographic information system will enable the identification of gaps and conservation opportunities available to support more effective conservation action planning.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Identify important fish habitats and protect them or restore their connections

The life cycle phases of numerous fish species play out in multiple habitats. These sequences of habitats and the connections between them must be preserved in order to provide for the survival of these species. The creation of an atlas documenting these important habitats in the St. Lawrence region will support the creation of habitat models and the development of geomatic tools for improving the selection of areas with the highest conservation potential.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Develop an integrated plan for "priority conservation areas"

Land analysis that combines information collected from unified habitat mapping, identification of habitats important to fish and the portrait of protected areas and other conservation measures will enable the identification of priority areas in order to enlarge the area of protected habitats, restore and preserve the connections between them and create transition zones to help reduce the pressure on these habitats from human activity. Moreover, the development of conservation scenarios will help to increase the effectiveness of measures targeting the preseervation of biodiversity.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Implement a biodiversity monitoring program in and around protected areas

A monitoring mechanism is essential for tracking the effectiveness of conservation actions. The implementation of a biodiversity monitoring program in and around protected areas will enable verification of the extent to which protecting these areas promotes long-term maintenance of biodiversity and identification of any necessary improvements.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Proceed with 3 marine protected area (MPA) initiatives

The pressure on marine ecosystems is increasing with the passage of time. To date, activities under the St. Lawrence Action Plan have led to creation of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, the first marine protected area in Quebec. The establishment of additional marine protected areas in conjunction with local stakeholders will help to strengthen the protection of the St. Lawrence's marine biodiversity.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Participate in the creation of a model interventions for the conservation of biodiversity in the agricultural setting

Numerous best management and development practices are recognized in agriculture in terms of supporting and increasing biodiversity. The joint implementation of these practices with agricultural producers across the region will help to raise awareness among producers about their positive impact on biodiversity and the benefits to them of following best practices.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Launch an online interactive version of the Atlas of Bank Restoration Sites of the St. Lawrence River

The purpose of this project is to enhance the Atlas of Bank Restoration Sites of the St. Lawrence River, which was originally published in 2007, in order to better serve users’ needs. In collaboration with the St. Lawrence Global Observatory (SLGO), an interactive Web application was developed to make the Atlas more user friendly. The project team took advantage of this upgrade to update some of the data and create a tool that meets accessibility standards. The Atlas provides an overview of wildlife habitats with restoration potential along the St. Lawrence. Its purpose is to foster stakeholder engagement in the conservation and restoration of sites of ecological interest along the St. Lawrence.

Read the backgrounder for this project.