Quebec’s Natural Heritage Conservation Act includes several types of protected area designation, including Aboriginal-led protected areas, protected areas with sustainable use, ecological reserves, and biodiversity reserves. Many of these protected area designations were introduced through recent amendments in 2021.
The Natural Heritage Conservation Act (“the Act”) recognizes that:
- Québec’s natural heritage has intrinsic value;
- Indigenous governments and communities have close cultural connections with this natural heritage;
- Québec’s natural heritage supports health, security, and economy;
- Québec has international responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity; and
- Québec must conserve its natural heritage for present and future generations.
The Natural Heritage Conservation Act works to ensure the protection of Québec’s natural heritage by:
- Supporting the creation and management of a protected areas network;
- Supporting Indigenous and community involvement in biodiversity conservation; and
- Supporting government collaboration in protected areas creation and management.
In many respects, the process for designating and managing these areas is the same. Important differences are highlighted in the sections below.
Before selecting and protecting an area, the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (“the Minister”) must collaborate with concerned government departments and municipalities. A Conservation Plan must inform each protected area.
Before protecting an area, the Minister must also hold a public information and consultation period. Once it has done so, the Government can designate any area as a protected area with sustainable use, an ecological or biodiversity reserve, or an Aboriginal-led protected area.
The Government can prohibit activities in protected areas by regulation. When determining which activities to prohibit, the Government must consider “the fundamental characteristics of [the] protected area…and ensure that the activities that may be carried on in a protected area are compatible with the conservation objectives applicable to that protected area.” The Minister can exempt any activity from regulation if it is in the public interest to do so.
In other words, the designation chosen (Aboriginal-led protected area, ecological reserve, sustainable use protected area, etc.) will influence the types of activities that the Minister can permit. In more strictly protected areas (ecological reserves and biodiversity reserves), some activities are forbidden by default, as noted in the chart above. The Minister must provide special permission for these activities to be allowed.
When determining whether to allow any activity to be carried out in a protected area by regulation, the Minister must consider:
- The nature of the activity and the likelihood of it causing disturbances or losses;
- The ecological characteristics of the protected area and ongoing human pressures;
- How much the activity adds to the overall impact on the watershed;
- The activity’s impact on biodiversity;
- The availability of other potential locations in which to carry out the activity;
- The possibility of changing the activity to minimize or prevent damage;
- The possibility of alternative land uses;
- The consequences of refusing to allow the activity; and
- The relative benefits and impacts caused by either decision.
The Minister can refuse to allow an activity if:
- The activity does not help maintain the ecosystem’s natural state;
- The proposed alternatives would not minimize the activity’s impacts;
- The activity would negatively impact ecological function and biodiversity; or
- The activity would impact the habitat of threatened or vulnerable species.
If the Minister believes that a protected area is “facing a real or apprehended threat of irreversible degradation,” then he/she can make an order prohibiting all access to, terminating all activities in, or doing any other thing regarding the protected area necessary to reduce or remove the threat.
Aboriginal-Led Protected Areas
Under the Natural Heritage Conservation Act and by regulation, the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (“the Minister”) can create an Aboriginal-led protected area. This form of designation creates unique opportunities for the creation of IPCAs.
An Indigenous government or community can propose areas for protection to allow for “the conservation of elements of biodiversity and associated cultural values that are of interest” to the Nation or community.
The proposal must include a map of the proposed Protected Area and its proposed conservation and development objectives. When assessing the proposal, the Minister must consult with all other concerned Indigenous governments or communities.
The Minister must encourage the participation of Indigenous governments and communities in the management of Aboriginal-led Protected Areas. The Minister can enter into an agreement with Indigenous governments or communities to support this process. Importantly, the Minister has the power to delegate their management responsibilities to any Indigenous community under the Act.
Protected Areas with Sustainable Use
The purpose of a Protected Area with Sustainable Use is to protect ecosystems and their associated cultural values. The designation was created to balance conservation and sustainable resource development and avoid an all-or-nothing approach. The land “must be developed for the benefit of the local and [Indigenous] communities concerned,” with the focus remaining on community participation and the sustainable use of natural resources.
Biodiversity Reserves are developed to protect natural settings or a natural monument or to protect representative areas of biodiversity.
Generally, biodiversity reserves have stricter protections compared to sustainable use protected areas, but they permit some activities. On the other hand, ecological reserves do not permit any activities.
Ecological Reserves can be protected for the following three purposes:
- To protect elements of biodiversity in their natural state;
- To preserve land for scientific or educational purposes; or
- To protect habitat for threatened or vulnerable species.
The ecological reserve designation is the strictest form of protection in Quebec: no activity is permitted, and no person may enter the reserve without special permission from the Minister, or in very limited situations.
Agreements and Delegation
By agreement, the Minister can delegate all or some of their powers regarding protected area management to any Indigenous government or community. These agreements must be made public and must specify the powers delegated, the Indigenous government or community’s obligations, and the terms and conditions of the agreement.
However, the Act clarifies that any actions taken by Indigenous governments or communities under these agreements are not binding on the State.