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Valley attracts initiatives for nature and owners

Holly Dressel

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a national organization that aims to protect plant and animal habitat by acquiring or helping manage properties for their natural and biological value, over the long term. It is aided by other organizations as well as the federal government, and holds more than 100,000 acres in Quebec, including almost 4,500 here in the Chateauguay Valley, where the group has been active for over 15 years. 

Last month, NCC announced a new focus on three Valley communities, Saint-Anicet, Sainte-Barbe and Dundee, “due to their natural environments with high ecological importance.”  

The NCC is offering its help and expertise so that landowners in these areas can help identify the plant species on their properties and learn more about the “ecological services” or benefits to the environment that animals, plants, forests and waterways in their area provide, in terms of richer soils, cleaner water, and better air for the entire Valley. It will also support owners interested in donating or selling their lands for conservation, a service also being offered by a local organization, Ambioterra (profiled below), with which the NCC often works. 

Valérie René, an NCC spokesperson, says the group starts by doing scientific and biological field analyses in various regions, and in this way its researchers have discovered many rare plants and sensitive habitats in the Haut-Saint-Laurent, which is why it preserved a part of the Teafields peat bog area north of Huntingdon and a section of Covey Hill many years ago. 

In July, NCC announced its new focus on the three Valley municipalities, inviting people to come see these areas and get information; there will be more such activities next summer. In August and September, René and her colleagues are meeting with landowners to offer their expertise in identifying plant species. This fall they will make a specific report to give each owner, and discuss with them the importance of various finds, if there are any problems like invasive species or erosion, how best to live on their land and preserve or foster the interesting plants that make it an exciting place. 

Over the next two years, they hope to expand this service to other parts of our Valley. René emphasizes, “Our goal is to work with people; we want to help people preserve what they love on their property, but we don’t need to buy their land to do it. We look for owners who want to be part of these projects.”  See www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/quebec. 

Ambioterra in the community

The NCC project dovetails nicely with a local one that has also been ongoing for more than 15 years. Ambioterra’s major focus is the Haut-Saint-Laurent; it has its headquarters in Saint-Chrysostome, and all members and board members are local residents. Its intent is to try to help promote healthy environments, farms and watercourses across southern Quebec. 

Stéphane Gingras, the group’s environmental consultant, says, “It’s very important, for us and the people who founded us, to make sure Ambioterra is community-based. Our board, members, our staff and general assemblies, we want to come from the community.” 

Although they often work closely with BPQ and NCC, Gingras feels they have a different approach to protection and conservation, since the other groups mostly work on getting full protection with limited public access. “Our philosophy is, people have been living here for many years. We can’t convince people out on the land to protect it if they can’t do what they need to anymore. All our staff and nearly all our board own land in the Valley, and we think ownership has to be the source of the conservation, which is sometimes complete, and sometimes partial. Ambioterra is there to help them do this.” 

Their first step is similar to NCC’s. Once they’ve gotten permission, scientists and field experts come to an owner’s land and do a full species analysis of animals, from fish and birds to deer and coyotes. The resulting illustrated report is free, although it takes months to compile and is worth about $5,000. It informs the owner what kinds of fish, birds, amphibians and so on they are sharing their land with. 

The process can stop there, but Gingras says, “We believe that once owners know what’s there, they’ll want to protect it.” Ambioterra can help them set up a variety of conservation methods, which may be very partial or complete.

Owners can dedicate a section of their land to conservation under a provincial law that will give them a hefty tax break. They are allowed to keep a great deal of access, for cutting home firewood, camping, fishing or hunting, for example, so long as they keep to the agreement they sign at the beginning. Obviously, development, clear-cutting, and industrialization of any kind are not allowed in any of these conservation plans. 

Other methods also save taxes, but are more complex. They are outlined on their website, or owners can get in touch for an in-depth explanation. See www.ambioterra.org/en.

Ambioterra, the Nature Conservancy, and Bird Protection Quebec are all in the Valley because of several factors: our geographical position, which means more warmth and sunlight than anywhere else in the province, as well as corridors to the vast forests of the Adirondacks just south of us. 

The glaciers left moraines of rock and sand that make single-crop farming only possible near the St. Lawrence River. Upland in much of our territory, there is mixed farming, which is the most productive and biologically friendly type. In the Valley, there’s everything from maple syrup, apples and blueberries to milk and soy. This will continue to make the territory home to a rich mix of animals and plants, especially if attention is paid to how it all works together.

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