Quebec Premier Jean Charest has announced a plan to protect 50 percent of the province’s northern wilderness from industrial development with a strategy that leans heavily upon consultation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
The new plan increases the protected area to 62,000 square miles (100,000 kilometers) an area the size of France, the Montreal Gazettereported. Part of the ambitious Plan Nord unveiled in May 2011, the region encompasses everything Quebecois north of the 49th Parallel.
“This is one of the last virgin territories on the planet,’’ Charest said, according to the Gazette, in an announcement alongside Pierre Arcand, minister of sustainable development, environment and parks. “It requires very careful and rigorous scientific processes to meet the objectives of protecting ecosystems and biodiversity.’’
Plan Nord calls for investing $80 billion over 25 years to develop mining, energy, forestry, bio-food, tourism, wildlife and transportation projects while protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity, according to the government’s outline of the scheme. Twenty percent of that northern region will be declared protected, while 30 percent will have relatively low-impact projects such as ecotourism, the Gazette said, with no mining or hydroelectric projects.
“It will favor development that benefits directly involved communities as well as all of Québec, while respecting cultures and identities,” the Quebec government said. About 120,000 people live in northern Quebec in four communities, one of them Inuit.
The conservation measures entail creating protected areas on 20 percent of the territory, including 12 percent of the boreal forest, by 2020; experimenting with new types of conservation methods and surveying the land to learn more about what resources lie beneath it; introducing legislation that would preserve the territory’s natural heritage and mandate sustainable development; and solicit input from aboriginals as well as people in the scientific, political and environmental sectors.
“Clearly, we will take the time needed to get it right. Ensuring sustainable development and optimal environmental protection requires proper planning,” Arcand said in a statement at the announcement in February. “The guidelines will come into effect gradually, to enable us to adapt as environmental and ecological knowledge evolves.”