• Hunter Cresswell

Gatineau Park seeks to protect eco-corridors

The 2020 Gatineau Park draft master plan objective to protect ecological corridors has gotten a passing grade from ecologist and Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment president Stephen Woodley.

On Jan. 21 the National Capital Commission, the Crown corporation that manages Gatineau Park, published a draft version of the park’s 2020 master plan, which has been in the works since 2017, with objectives including improving habitats, reducing the footprint of infrastructure, seeking greater legal protection for the park, closing unofficial trails, acquiring private land within the park and protecting ecological corridors that connect it to other undeveloped, natural areas of the region.

This map included in the draft Gatineau Park 2020 master plan displays neighbouring ecological corridors outside of park lands that are important for local wildlife biodiversity both in and outside of the park. Image courtesy National Capital Commission

“Despite its large territory, Gatineau Park remains a small conservation park with its 361 square kilometres. It is therefore essential to protect the natural connections that connect it to the natural spaces that surround it. Ecological corridors that ensure this connection allow species to move, and are particularly important in the context of climate change, which forces species to migrate,” wrote NCC spokesperson Maryam El-Akhrass in an email to The Low Down.

Ecological corridors have been a hot topic in Chelsea and beyond. The issue made international headlines in 2019 following a UN report titled, “Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating.’” It made local headlines around the same time during the municipal approval process of the housing project on the previously undeveloped land owned by the Larrimac Golf Club, which is one of the ecological corridors connecting Gatineau Park to Gatineau River.

“We are in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis,” Woodley said. “We are in the midst of the sixth extinction event.”

‘Rules of island biogeography’

A map of the park included with the draft master plan displays about a dozen eco-corridors spider-webbing out from the park. In just Chelsea and La Pêche there are five: along the Chelsea Creek to Gatineau River; in Larrimac; near the Rockhurst neighbourhood of Wakefield; from Hollow Glen Lake to the Ottawa River; and a large one heading north out of the park near Lac Gauvreau in Masham, to Rupert and beyond.

If the park is cut off from outside natural areas – following what Woodley called the “rules of island biogeography” – so are the critters that call the park home. Fewer new animals would be able to come and go for food or to breed and diversify their gene pool. It not only would reduce the diversity of species in the park, it would also decrease the overall number of species in the park, Woodley explained.

“If it’s not feasible [to protect ecological corridors around the park], Gatineau park will be a far lesser place,” he added. “The park is doing absolutely the right thing by trying to identify and protect eco-corridors.”

For Chelsea, legislating the protection of these eco-corridors falls in line with its slogan of being an “environment-friendly community.” Similar to the wetland protections that are currently written into laws concerning development, eco-corridor protections should also be legislated.

“We need to fit biological thinking into our municipal planning,” Woodley said.

ACRE plays its role as a land trust by directly purchasing undeveloped land for protection, protecting land donated to its trust, lobbying at the municipal level and educating residents.

“It’s an uphill battle because a lot of citizens support [protecting eco-corridors], but there’s not a lot of government support,” Woodley said.

It’s up to the municipality to codify ecological corridor protections since the NCC can’t protect lands outside of the park’s borders.

“Innovative ways will need to be found to maintain ecological connectivity to surrounding lands, which are under municipal and regional jurisdiction. These means will need to be developed in collaboration with regional partners, landowners and conservation organizations interested in the long-term protection of natural heritage, regional ecosystems and native biodiversity,” El-Akhrass wrote.

Visit ncc-ccn.gc.ca to read the full draft master plan. The final version will be available on Feb. 11.

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