Largest wildlife preserve in Quebec planned for the Outaouais
Wildlife refuge will protect dozens of vulnerable, threatened species
A 29-kilometre stretch along the Ottawa River in western Quebec could soon be transformed into a vast wildlife preserve, protecting the habitats of dozens of threatened and vulnerable animals.
Quebec's ministry of forests, wildlife and parks, which has been working on the project for decades, says it wants to accelerate the process to establish what may be the largest preserve of its kind in the province.
There are more than 31 animals classified as threatened, vulnerable or likely to become so living in the wetlands along the river between McLaurin Bay in eastern Gatineau, Que., and Plaisance National Park in Thurso, Que.
There are currently nine wildlife sanctuaries in Quebec. The largest, the Battures-de-Saint-Fulgence near Saguenay, Que., is about 20 square kilometres.
The strip of land along the Ottawa River is notable for its high bird populations, said biologist and ornithologist Daniel Toussaint.
More than 240 birds visit the area, including the least bittern, a vulnerable species that only breeds in cattail marshes like the ones that exist along that corridor.
There are also hundreds of species of fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles that call the land home, Toussaint told Radio-Canada.
"We have a natural playground near Gatineau," he said in a French-language interview. "We have Gatineau Park on the other side, which is more of a forested habitat. Here, we're protecting wetlands."
The Quebec government has gradually purchased 127 lots of land since the 1970s, all located in flood plains, to protect the habitat from real estate and industrial development.
The lands are also used as buffers to prevent floods from reaching populated areas.
People will be able to visit the wildlife preserve once it's created, with efforts being made to improve trails and urban camping spaces, said Jean Provost, who's heading up the project for the ministry.
By granting the corridor special status, Provost said it will be easier for the province to identify activities like logging and fishing that could put animals and their habitat at further risk.
Gatineau councllor Jean-François LeBlanc said he' s looking forward to the project due to its tourism potential.
"We'll be really proud if we are able to say that we have the largest wildlife refuge in Quebec," he said in a French-language interview.
"It is another jewel that we have in the Outaouais."
A site visit by Gatineau's elected officials is scheduled for September, with public consultations are scheduled for October in Gatineau and in Lochaber-Partie-Ouest, Que.
The provincial government will then have to grant its final approval, which could still take months.
With files from Roxane Léouzon