The responsibility for preserving exceptional forest ecosystems (EFEs), which are among the most precious treasures of Quebec’s forest heritage, lies with both individuals and the various levels of government. The Ministry of Environment and Fight against Climate Change currently recognizes three types of EFEs: old-growth forests, rare forest ecosystems and refuge forests for threatened or vulnerable plant species.
- Old growth forests are stands that have generally been minimally affected by natural disturbances and human activities. They contain living trees of all ages and dead trees, still standing or lying on the ground, in all stages of decay. The dominant trees are of a venerable age.
- Rare forests are exceptional because of the arrangement of plant species they contain or because of their structure. They are uncommon and usually cover only small areas. Their rarity may be natural, i.e., the result of particular ecological conditions, but may also be the result of human activity. It is measured not only at the Quebec level, but also at the level of smaller territorial units.
- Refuge forests are homes to one or more threatened or vulnerable plant species. They may contain an outstanding population of one or more of these species, or a significant concentration (at least three) of these species, or a very rare threatened or vulnerable species.
Most of the EFEs identified to date have been in the densely populated areas of southern Quebec, where they are particularly vulnerable. Just over half of the exceptional forest ecosystems are located on private property. The others have been identified on government land, and many are already protected as part of parks, ecological reserves or other protected areas.
Since 1997, an administrative directive has ensured the temporary conservation of exceptional forests located on state-owned lands. This measure was reinforced in the recent update of the forestry regime. Under the new forest, the Minister may, in fact, classify a territory as an “exceptional forest ecosystem” after having carried out the required consultations. The Ministry is thus initiating the creation of a network of EFEs that will be an integral part of the Quebec network of protected areas.