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Nature Conservancy of Canada cuts trees to protect rare at-risk plant

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has cleared a 1.3-hectare red pine plantation in Saint-Anicet to restore one of the last remaining habitats in the province for forked three-awned grass.

The plant, which has been designated as threatened in Quebec and endangered in Canada, is a small dune plant from the wheat family that grows in small tufts. It is only found in a 15-square-kilometre area in the Haut-Saint-Laurent. In fact, there are only eight populations of forked three-awned grass in the province, of which six are concentrated in the Cazaville dunes area of Saint-Anicet.

Forked three awned grass is a threatened plant that grows almost exclusively in the Cazavilledunes in Saint Anicet PHOTO Nature Conservancy of Canada

The conifers were felled by a team from the NCC at the beginning of February. The monoculture red pine stand was quite poor in biodiversity with very few species in its undergrowth. As a young plantation, the trees also held relatively little ecological value. The work was carried out as part of the Partenariat pour les milieux naturels project with the Quebec government.

In a statement issued by the NCC, program director Julien Poisson explains that “The pines were planted in habitat suitable for forked three-awned grass and other dune plants, under the mistaken assumption that this area wasn’t very productive. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.” As a rich area with a strong potential for biodiversity, he suggests that in restoring this habitat they may promote the recovery of other rare dune species, including spotted beebalm, which is threatened in Quebec, and forked bluecurls, which are likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable in the province.

 

The Nature Conservancy of Canada resorted to cutting a red pine plantation in Cazaville to restore the habitat for forked three awned grass and hopefully a few other threatened plant species PHOTO Nature Conservancy of Canada

 

Dune plants don’t do well in the shade of pine branches, or in accumulated plant residue on the ground such as pine needles. Forked three-awned grass also depends on natural disturbance processes, such as fires and strong winds, to maintain an ideal environment. The NCC believes that when these conditions don’t occur often enough, human intervention may be necessary for the species’ survival.

“Felling trees is not common practice at the Nature Conservancy of Canada,” says StéphanieLeduc, a project manager whose territory includes the Haut-Saint-Laurent. “This exceptional project is the result of many years of monitoring and a lengthy reflection process,” she explains, while suggesting that intervention by the NCC in natural habitats is minimal or nonexistent under normal circumstances. “It was a strategic cut to leave as much space to restore the plant,” she notes, adding they left islands of biodiversity as well as buffer zones and windbreaks.

According to Leduc, another sub population of forked three-awned grass has been identified in the Rocher sector of Franklin, and it is possible the plant could be found in other areas near there. “The Haut-Saint-Laurent is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna,” she says, suggesting the area is a hot spot for biodiversity.

“The sandy plains of Cazaville are a rare ecosystem, home to many species at risk,” Leduc continues, pointing out that as most of the plants are found on private property, the NCC works with homeowners specifically in the Cazaville area to survey for threatened plants including forked three-awned grass. She says that while the plant tends to flower in September it is “inconspicuous,” and hard to identify. The best approach is for homeowners with exposed patches of sand is keep these areas clear of quick-growing species and to contact the NCC at stephanie.leduc@conservationdelanature.ca.

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