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University of Alberta

Laval University

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Memorial University

 

 
Moyen Nord

This study identifies priority areas for biodiversity conservation in the Plan Nord region of Quebec, either by expanding existing protected areas or creating new ones. The study also investigates the consequences of existing mining claims for biodiversity conservation within this region.

Background - Context for Research

Fig 1. Plan Nord and Moyen Nord
Fig 2. Aerial view of Moyen Nord
In 2008, the government of Quebec announced an economic plan calling for massive investments in natural resource development in that region of la Belle Province north of the 49th parallel. The vision for the Plan Nord includes new projects in transportation, mining, forestry, energy (hydroelectricity and windmills) as well as recreation and tourism developments. Still in elaboration, the Plan Nord aims to respect sustainable development and provides for the establishment of new protected areas. In total, 50% of the territory covered by the Plan Nord is to be protected from industrial exploitation. Although it has not yet been determined how new protected areas will be delineated, the Plan Nord states that 12% of the region will be included within protected areas meeting strict international standards (e.g., IUCN categories I to IV) and another 38% will be devoted to non-consumptive or non-industrial uses such as camping, hunting and fishing.

In this context, our research group will identify priority areas that could contribute to the 50% target, either by expanding existing protected areas or creating new ones, while maximising the potential for conservation of biodiversity. New or expanded areas identified by the BEACONs' approach will, in combination with the existing protected areas network, be designed to provide a representative sample of biodiversity within northern Quebec. This approach uses four ecological criteria (land cover, a climatic moisture index, mean annual gross primary productivity, and lake edge density) to identify candidate networks of protected areas, or ecological benchmarks, that satisfy ecological representativity. Our assumption has been that by representing ecological variation, we will also capture biodiversity.

Study Area

Our study area is the Quebec Moyen Nord, a portion of territory between the 49th and 55th parallel (Fig 1). We selected this area because it is where the proposed industrial developments will be concentrated and it is also where we find the last frontier forests as well as endangered woodland caribou. As a priority area for conservation planning, Moyen Nord provides us with an opportunity to apply the BEACONs approach to a real planning problem.

Assessment of Representation

The first part of the project consisted of developing a tool to assess representativity at the network level. We developed the Ranker tool for this purpose. This automated algorithm is able to analyze different combinations of candidate protected areas and quantify their representativeness. Then combinations are classified from the most representative to worst revealing the most appropriate network designs for planners. Candidate protected areas can be proposed by planners or can be provided by the Builder, a tool developed by BEACONs that delineates candidate ecological benchmarks. The results provided by this analysis allow for the identification of the best network configurations for representativity as well as areas that are essential for achieving representation and therefore irreplaceable. Rather than provide a single answer, the results offer a range of good solutions that planners can use during their decision making process.

Identification of Priority Areas for Biodiversity Conservation

Fig 3. Protected areas in Quebec
Fig 4. Aerial view of mine in Moyen Nord
The second part of the project applied the Builder and Ranker in Moyen Nord to identify priority areas for biodiversity conservation in the Plan Nord region of Quebec, either by expanding existing protected areas or creating new ones. The representativity of the existing protected areas was assessed and results demonstrated that its representativity was high due to its scattered pattern which covers a large span of environmental gradients. We were able to identify additional areas able to enhance global representativity at the network level. This first application of the BEACONs' method did not take into account any constraints for protected areas with the exception of intact landscapes. In a further analysis, we included an additional constraint to investigate the consequences for biodiversity conservation of the existing mining claims within the region of the Moyen Nord. Under present legislation, these claims are not available for inclusion in new protected areas. Mining interests in northern Quebec are important and so implementing conservation plans would be easier if such claimed areas could be avoided. In the particular case of Moyen Nord, results demonstrated that it was possible to find design alternative conservation networks outside areas reserved to mining industry that were equivalent in the representativity regarding the four environmental surrogates.

 

 
 
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