Anticosti Island to get special protection, barring all unsustainable economic activity

Quebec's environment minister wants to bring the proportion of protected land in Quebec up from 10 per cent to 17 per cent by 2020, to meet the international biodiversity target the province agreed to in 2010.

Bill 46, tabled Thursday, gives Quebec more flexibility to increase protected areas in the province

Anticosti Island, with its 160,000 white-tailed deer, could be the first zone in Quebec to receive the status of protected area for sustainable use. (Julia Page/CBC)

Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette wants to give Anticosti Island a new land protection status that could help the island in its bid to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Charette tabled a bill Thursday to modify Quebec's land protection rules and introduce two new types of protected zones — marine reserves and protected areas for sustainable use.

That second type of protection would apply to Anticosti, Charette said, covering the portion of the island that isn't currently under strict protected status.

"It's really to protect biodiversity on a given territory," the minister said.

No chance of gas or oil exploration

The proposed legislation, Bill 46, would not compromise the existing protected area on the island, which covers 22 per cent of the territory, he said.

The new status would allow certain "sustainable economic activities, like hunting or logging," on the rest of the island, as long as those activities posed no threat to the island's biodiversity, Charette said.

"If we open the door to hunting, it can only be done in a sustainable manner," he said.

The proposed regulations would also rule out, once and for all, any chance of oil or gas exploration on Anticosti.

'Devil is in the details'

The mayor of the municipality of Anticosti Island, John Pineault, said he and his municipal council will be perusing the bill before giving it their approval, but he is happy to see the project moving forward.

"Obviously, the devil is in the details," Pineault said. "So we really want to look at it and then sit down and negotiate with the government."

Anticosti Mayor John Pineault has been lobbying hard for UNESCO World Heritage designation for the island, which is bigger than P.E.I. but only has 215 residents. (Julia Page/CBC)

Pineault said the plan would also protect a one-kilometre-wide band of land all around the island, to protect the coastline and its many fossils — one of the key elements in Anticosti's bid to be recognized by UNESCO.

The final proposal has to be submitted by February 2021 — a deadline that is fast approaching, said Pineault.

"That looks like it's a long way off, but really, for that kind of dossier, it's tomorrow."

2020 targets

If passed, Bill 46 will also help Quebec protect a total of 17 per cent of the province's land and inland waters by the end of 2020, because it would eliminate several levels of government bureaucracy, Charette said.

Right now, only 10.68 per cent of Quebec's land base is protected  — far from the target the province set as part of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

"It's not something we can be proud of," said Charette. "We've fallen far behind."

The status given to any new protected zones will help Quebec reach its 2030 targets, which will be determined at the next UN meetings on the convention, in Beijing.

Fossils like this one found on Anticosti Island date back several hundred million years and are one of the important selling points for Anticosti's bid to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

The environmental group Nature Québec said most scientists agree the new target should be set at 30 per cent, at least.

The group's executive director, Alice-Anne Simard, said Nature Québec will be watching closely to make sure the government doesn't turn back on its commitment.

"We want to make sure that this new law actually will help put a stop to biodiversity loss," she said.


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