QUÉBEC CITY, April 17, 2012 /CNW/ - The Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) welcomes the introduction of the bill to conserve the natural heritage and ensure sustainable development of the territory covered by the Plan Nord - but notes an urgency to act. "This long-awaited bill must be given the force of law quickly to achieve a balance with industrial development activities already well underway in the North," explained Suzann Méthot, CBI's regional director in Québec.
This bill will replace the current Natural Heritage Conservation Act, following consultations held last fall by the minister responsible for sustainable development, the environment and parks (MDDEP) and further to the premier's commitment to set aside 50% of the territory covered by the Plan Nord for environmental protection, safeguarding biodiversity, promoting natural heritage and for various types of development that do not rely on industrial activities. "With the introduction of this bill, the government has taken another step toward making its commitment a reality. We intend to take the time to analyze the bill to make sure that it does not weaken the current Natural Heritage Conservation Act, that it takes into account the expectations and concerns raised during the consultations, especially regarding ecological planning in each affected area and participation by Aboriginal communities," added Ms. Méthot.
CBI is satisfied with what has been achieved since the premier first presented the Plan Nord project in the fall of 2008. However, despite the drive shown by Minister Arcand with respect to this process since he was given responsibility for the MDDEP, the fact is that industrial development is progressing rapidly and could jeopardize the delicate balance between development and conservation. "We must act swiftly and efficiently to protect and preserve our northern ecosystems. A law embedding the commitment to protect half of the territory and ensuring sustainable development of the other half is essential to protecting Aboriginal peoples' traditional activities and preserving fragile ecosystems, especially woodland and migratory caribou habitats," said Ms. Méthot.
The government can immediately take steps to ensure a balance between conservation and development by applying the precautionary principle—namely by protecting those habitats already identified by Aboriginal representatives. Examples include the Nastapoka River, home of freshwater seals, and the Broadback River/Evans Lake region, a prime habitat for woodland caribou. "The ecological and cultural value of these territories has already been documented. What are we waiting for to protect them?" asked Ms. Méthot.
An international scientific symposium for northern conservation
Finally, if the Plan Nord is to become a true sustainable development project, CBI cautions that all environmental planning processes must absolutely include Aboriginal and local communities in the decision-making. To this end, CBI along with the government of Québec, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and local partners will hold an international scientific symposium in Montréal on April 26-27 that brings together some of the world's leading experts to develop recommendations for the implementation of environmental planning of the northern territory (www.scienceqc.ca).
About the Canadian Boreal Initiative
The Canadian Boreal Initiative brings together diverse partners to create new solutions for Boreal conservation and sustainable development. It acts as a catalyst for on-the-ground efforts across the Boreal forest region by governments, industry, Aboriginal communities, conservation groups, major retailers, financial institutions and scientists.
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