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Protected Areas in Québec


What Are Protected Areas?

In December 2002, the Government of Québec adopted the Natural Heritage Conservation Act in order to contribute to the objective of safeguarding the character, diversity and integrity of Québec’s natural heritage. The definition of “protected area” set out in the Act is:

  • A geographically defined expanse of land or water established under a legal and administrative framework designed specifically to ensure the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of related natural and cultural resources.

Since 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has defined protected area as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”

In Québec, any territory that meets one of these definitions is considered a protected area.

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.

Any activity carried out on all or a portion of a protected area must not alter its basic biological characteristics. In cases of conflict, the conservation of nature has priority.

Why Are Protected Areas Important?

In 1996, the Québec government adopted a Strategy for the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity within its borders. The strategy, whose implementation is coordinated by the Minister of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change, has already outlined major objectives with respect to protected areas. Via the strategy, Québec emphasizes that protected areas are a key element in maintaining the diversity of species, ecosystems and wild genetic resources, as well as for attaining the objectives of sustainable development.

On environmental, ecological, scientific, educational, social, cultural, spiritual and economic levels, protected areas provide a wide variety of benefits.

From an ecological perspective, examples of benefits attributed to protected areas include producing oxygen, creating and protecting soil, absorbing and reducing pollutants, improving local and regional weather conditions, conserving groundwater aquifers, as well as regulating and purifying watercourses.

Protected areas are laboratories in natural environments. 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 a prized setting for recreational and outdoor activities that contribute to our physical and mental well-being.

In terms of economic benefits, protected areas foster 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 hunting, fishing and trapping. They contribute very significantly to the tourism and ecotourism industries, which are rapidly expanding.

Moreover, protected areas currently represent a major component of sustainable forest management.

To learn more on the subject, consult the section entitled: Protected Areas in Québec - Context, Findings and Challenges for the Future (French).

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Québec’s Network of Protected Areas

As of December 31, 2018, Québec’s protected areas covered some 166,760 square kilometres, 10.00% of the total territory of the province. To be more precise, the network of land and freshwater protected areas extended to 161,097 square kilometres (10.65% of the territory), while 5,663 square kilometres of marine environments (3.65%) enjoy protected status. The network of marine protected areas covers 1,957 square kilometres or 1.3% of Québec’s marine environments. 11.79% of the territory covered by the Plan Nord is protected.

In all, 4,775 natural sites in Québec meet the definition of protected areas. These natural environments are regulated and managed in accordance with the following 32 legal and/or administrative designations:

  • Exceptional forest ecosystem (EFE) (three types of EFEs)
    • Old-growth forest
    • Rare forest
    • Forest sanctuary
  • Threatened or vulnerable plant species habitat
  • Wildlife habitat (eight types of habitats)
    • Aquatic bird staging area
    • White-tailed deer seclusion area
    • Threatened or vulnerable wildlife species habitat
    • Cliff bird colony
    • Island or peninsular bird colony
    • Muskrat habitat
    • Heron habitat
    • Mudflat
  • Marine park
  • Natural voluntary conservation environment
  • National Capital Commission park (Canada)
  • Canada National Park and National Park Reserve
  • Québec National Park
  • Biological sanctuary
  • Migratory bird sanctuary
  • Wildlife sanctuary
  • Aquatic reserve
  • Proposed aquatic reserve
  • Biodiversity reserve
  • Proposed biodiversity reserve
  • Québec National Park Reserve
  • Land reserved for a protected area
  • Ecological reserve
  • Proposed ecological reserve
  • National wildlife reserve
  • Recognized natural reserve
  • Man-made landscape
  • Proposed man-made landscape

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Government Guidelines

On June 21, 2000, the Québec government adopted principles and strategic guidelines for the purpose of providing Québec with a network of protected areas representative of its overall biological diversity and that would, in total, cover 8% of Québec’s surface area. In April 2011, the government adopted new guidelines for protected areas that set a target of 12% of the territory by 2015. Since then, it has adopted more ambitious objectives to achieve the international goals outlined in Aichi Target 11 of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Consequently, in launching the Plan Nord on April 8, 2015, Québec committed to reaching a target of 20% of the Plan Nord’s territory by 2020, including at least 12% in the boreal forest north of the 49th parallel. Through these objectives and the implementation of a strategy adapted to southern Québec’s regional characteristics, Québec is on track for reaching the international target of 17% of land and freshwater protected areas by 2020.

In its Maritime Strategy, and consistent with Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Québec government has also committed to reaching the international marine environment target by working in collaboration and consultation with the federal government to establish a representative network of protected areas covering at least 10% of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Through these guidelines, the government acknowledges the importance and benefits of protected areas for all of Québec on ecological, economic and social levels. By adopting objectives and measures with a view to expanding the current network of protected areas, it is focusing its efforts on preserving representative samples of all biodiversity, be it terrestrial, aquatic, estuarial or marine. It also targets the preservation of fragile or exceptional environments as well as the habitats of threatened or vulnerable species. The government intends to encourage participation by the major stakeholders and organizations concerned by the strategy on protected areas. Native communities will also be asked to participate.

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The Ecological Reference Framework

The Ecological Reference Framework is the scientific basis used to define Québec’s biological diversity. In the context where protected areas must be representative of biodiversity, the Ministère has developed a methodology for defining what constitutes Québec’s biodiversity according to various levels of perception and for planning future interventions for the representation of biodiversity in Québec.

To highlight the nature, diversity and spatial distribution of ecosystems, the Ecological Reference Framework relies on a geographical approach where the territory is delineated based on ecological reasoning, which is itself set within a larger North American perspective in order to facilitate dialogue among ecological land and resource management stakeholders. This framework is therefore a tool that can be shared by all stakeholders concerned.

To learn more on the subject, consult the following page:

  • Québec’s Ecological Reference Framework (French)

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