Protecting our ecosystems
On April 22, Premier Legault announced Quebec’s intention to protect and conserve 30 per cent of its land resources by 2030, as reported in La Presse. Many have been wondering how and when this commitment will translate into municipal contribution targets. We also wonder whether by the time this all gets sorted out, will it be too late? What, if anything, can be done now?
The pandemic has led to a greater openness to telework and this, in turn, has fueled a massive interest of many people to live in rural areas near metropolitan centres. As a result, land prices are rising, as is the interest of landowners and developers to reap the benefits of this bonanza. How can this be squared with the urgent need to protect mature trees and wetlands within our municipalities? How can the public interest in protecting the environment be served? What tools are available for municipalities interested in better understanding and protecting the natural assets on their territory?
Ecologists and economists have started to collaborate to identify the economic value of certain functions of undeveloped lands, such as water retention, erosion prevention, carbon sequestration and water purification. More importantly, they have developed processes for identifying the cost of complete or partial replacement of these ecosystem functions with engineered solutions. This information empowers municipalities to engage in evidence-based development and conservation decisions. Without this information, it is more difficult to protect land and resources and thus, rampant development is much more likely to occur.
The aquifer and soil retention capacity of mature trees offer two examples of natural asset functions in our communities. How much do we know about the impact of development along the Gatineau river - one lot or subdivision at a time - on the supply of potable water and aquifer recharge? How much do we know about the role that the trees covering our hillsides play in soil retention, particularly in areas prone to landslides due to the high leda clay content?
Over the last ten years, some Quebec communities have started to develop detailed maps that identify the ecological and natural asset functions of undeveloped land. Based on this information, evidence-based conservation and development strategies have been created, and zoning has been adapted accordingly.
Zoning limiting development can be controversial as it may reduce the market value of land. The Quebec courts, however, have started to uphold efforts of municipalities to protect these natural assets once thus identified. This is encouraging and will hopefully inspire self-pro