“Our forests are degrading!” exclaimed Stéphane Gingras before a packed room, as he opened a conference on the state of the forests in the Montérégie region. “They need love,” continued the biodiversity officer for the Ambioterra environmental organization, which organized the conference held February 8 at the cultural hall in Saint-Chrysostome. Ambioterra is well-placed to speak on the state of the forest, as the organization has been working to protect biodiversity in the region since 2002. The group reports that forests have steadily declined by three per cent between 2010 and 2018. In the Haut-Saint-Laurent, the residential sector is responsible for five per cent of deforestation, while 95 per cent has taken place within agricultural zones. Speaker David Lemieux-Bibeau explained that despite the logging practices taking place in agricultural zones, agriculture is placing less pressure on our forests than in neighbouring regions such as the Eastern Townships or in Ontario. “Our regional forest is isolated in the intensive agricultural zone, so it is indirectly being preserved thanks to the Agricultural Protection Act, which limits fragmentation and the potential for industrial or residential development,” he said. “Our forest is also more mature, because of the maple groves and the fact that it is under-exploited,” continued the forestry engineer. This is the case despite numerous examples of allegedly illegal deforestation practices taking place in the region to convert land to be suitable for field crops. “There is a regression, even if cutting over two hectares is forbidden. In the region we have the most diverse forest in Quebec, with many rare species – it is important that we protect it,” said Lemieux-Bibeau. In response to a question from a conference attendee, Gingras provided some additional context for the situation facing local forests. “Farmers are under enormous financial pressure. For some, clear-cutting the forest to grow their farm seems to be the only way to support their families,” he explained, while pointing out the work Ambioterra is doing to implement agroforestry plans for producers who now want to incorporate riparian strips and windbreaks to curb soil erosion and improve the biodiversity on their land. The conference concluded with a presentation by Christian Auclair of the Syndicat des producteurs forestiers du sud du Québec. Auclair, who spoke on behalf of the organization which represents 13,000 forest producers, suggested participants should take better care of their woodlots by managing them and even introducing sensible cuts. This would allow property owners to generate a certain income while improving forest health and carbon sequestration. Auclair noted there are numerous resources on preserving a woodlot or sustainably exploiting forested land that can be found free of charge online at foretprivee.ca.