An ecological reserve is first and foremost a territory preserved in its natural state: an island, a swamp, a peat bog, a forest, a watershed, etc. All the sites selected to become an ecological reserve have distinctive ecological characteristics.
In some cases, the environment is one where the soils, surface deposits, plants and wildlife fit well into an ensemble that is representative of the natural features of a region. In other cases, the status of ecological reserve makes it possible to safeguard rare or threatened species of fauna or flora, or exceptional sites. In all cases, we can truly speak of natural museums where conservation, scientific knowledge and, when possible, education are privileged.
Some ecological reserves safeguard fragile or rare natural environments in Quebec in an integral and permanent way. The Pointe-Heath Ecological Reserve on Anticosti Island, for example, protects a peat bog on limestone deposits in a maritime environment. Others, such as the Pin-Rigide Ecological Reserve and the Micocoulier Ecological Reserve in the Montérégie region, preserve plants and animals that are rare or unique in Quebec. Several have environments that are representative of ecosystems and landscapes, such as the Lac-Malakisis Ecological Reserve in Témiscamingue, the Tantaré Ecological Reserve near Québec City, the Île-Brion Ecological Reserve in the Magdalen Islands, and the Ristigouche Ecological Reserve in the Matapédia Valley. Finally, an ecological reserve such as Île-aux-Sternes, in Lake Saint-Pierre, makes it possible to monitor the reconstitution of natural environments.
Why conserve land in its natural state?
To conserve a territory in its natural state is to affirm the predominance of its biological and ecological values over its potential for exploitation, development or enhancement for economic purposes. In fact, when we create an ecological reserve, we are taking out an insurance policy for our natural heritage.
Humans are the primary users of the environment. Very few natural environments have escaped their various interventions: hunting, fishing, recreation, agricultural, forestry or mining operations, urban development, encroachment on riparian and aquatic environments, draining of wetlands, etc. The accumulation of these interventions affects the natural environment.
The accumulation of these interventions affects the biological and ecological diversity of Quebec. In fact, living species, ecosystems and ecological processes are disappearing. In the long run, major environmental problems arise: soil erosion, depletion of our wildlife wealth, reduction in the quality and quantity of spaces available for outdoor activities.
A network of ecological reserves is a safeguard against the impoverishment of our biological diversity. Each ecological reserve becomes a living sample of our natural heritage, protected from the disturbances caused by human activity.
An essential knowledge tool
Little is known about the functioning of natural environments, which are continually under attack from development and multiple land uses. Ecological reserves fill this gap by promoting knowledge and understanding of the functioning of these environments. This is particularly important for a better use of the territory and its resources.
Ecological reserves also serve to evaluate, in a comparative manner, the impact of human activities on the environment. Indeed, to know the impact of certain aggressions on an ecosystem, it is necessary to know how it behaves under natural conditions. From a conservation and sustainable development perspective, a network of ecological reserves is therefore the reference point we need to assess the environmental effects of work carried out on Quebec territory.
A sustainable development approach
During the 1960s, societies began to search for more harmonious relationships between humans and nature. Suddenly, we realized that the timid measures taken to protect natural environments had not succeeded in preventing the disappearance of wildlife and plant species and of many habitats. It was then realized that the natural balance of the planet was threatened and that it was necessary to preserve ecosystems in their natural state in order to preserve global biological diversity.
It is in this context that the International Biological Program (IBP) was born. Created by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), UNESCO and the International Council of Scientific Unions, this program aimed to identify natural environments to be preserved in their entirety and on a permanent basis.
In 1974, the Quebec National Assembly adopted the Ecological Reserves Act to preserve certain parts of the territory. Quebec thus became part of a vast worldwide movement in which more than 50 countries were already participating.
In 1993, this law was updated to allow, among other things, the protection of selected sites before they were set up as ecological reserves and to facilitate the conditions for research and education activities.
The main goal of the network of ecological reserves in Quebec remains, with a view to sustainable development, the integral and permanent conservation of samples of environments representing the diversity of the ecological and genetic wealth of our natural heritage. In addition to guaranteeing the protection of natural environments, ecological reserves have scientific research, educational and conservation objectives for threatened or vulnerable species of flora and fauna.
Access to ecological reserves is limited to management, research or education activities and is subject to special authorizations to ensure the ecological integrity of these sites.
What distinguishes the ecological reserve network from other networks of protected areas (e.g., parks, wildlife reserves, etc.) are the following charateristics: a frame of reference focused primarily on ecological and biological diversity; the absence of recreational tourism activities; highly controlled management of access for very specific research and environmental monitoring purposes; and the small size of sites.