Friday, October 24, 2008

The Appalachian Corridor: connecting people and nature

The human landscape is all about connections. Connecting one town to another, connecting farms to markets, and connecting people to one another. These connections are useful to us but have the opposite effect on the natural landscape creating a disjointed network that makes it hard for wildlife to migrate or travel from forest to forest. One local organization, the Appalachian Corridor (or ACA - Appalachian Corridor Appalachien), recognizes this and is helping local landowners and organizations apply conservation measures for a healthier landscape benefiting wildlife and people alike.

The Appalachian Corridor has been a part of conservation in the Townships since 2001 when three ambitious women, Louise Gratton, Francine Hone and Terri Monahan, started the project to protect the natural corridor of the Appalachian Mountains which includes over 2,500 km2 in Quebec alone, stretching from Brompton lake to the border and from the Pinnacle to Sherbrooke. Before ACA, the only sizable protected area in the region was Mount Orford National Park, covering nearly 6,000 hectares, and a variety of local land trusts which contributed another 400 hectares of protected land. In the short years since, the Appalachian Corridor and its partners – a wide array of local land trusts, conservation groups and government agencies – have effectively doubled the area of protected land in the region through private land donations and conservation agreements bringing the proportion of protected land in the area to 3%. The most notable example of this is the acquisition of 6,000 hectares of the Sutton Mountains massif which was purchased from Domtar by the Nature Conservancy Canada and the government of Quebec and is now known as the Green-Mountains Nature Reserve.

The idea of wildlife corridors has been around since the 1980s when ecologists began realizing that human development was causing the natural landscape to become more fragmented and more disconnected. As natural habitats were shrinking, so was the number of connections between them making travel and migration difficult for numerous wildlife species.

The Monteregian hills (e.g. Mount St-Hilaire, Mount Rougemont, Mount St-Gregoire) just west of the Townships are a good example of fragmented natural habitats. Each hill, while endowed with beautiful forests and wildlife, is completely surrounded by farmland and roads making it difficult for wildlife to migrate from one hill to another. Habitat fragmentation can be a problem for species that have big ranges and can’t rely on small, isolated natural areas such as the bobcat and cougar. Even for species that don’t necessarily travel as much or migrate, a certain amount of mixing between different populations is required to prevent inbreeding. In order to minimize these detrimental effects, conservation groups began working on creating wildlife corridors, stretches of protected land between protected habitats that make it easier for wildlife to travel between them.

Here in the Townships, we are fortunate to have a landscape that is much less fragmented than in Monteregie but wildlife movement is by no means unhindered by human development. This is the underlying goal of ACA’s three-pronged plan. The first step in the conservation plan is to ensure the region has core conservation areas – such as the Green-Mountains Nature Reserve and Mount Orford National Park – big enough to ensure the survival of all representative species. These core areas are then surrounded with buffer zones where certain activities that don’t compromise the integrity of the core area are allowed such as sustainable forestry and low-density housing. Lastly, corridors of natural habitat should be maintained between core areas to allow wildlife movements between them.

The means by which the Appalachian Corridor achieves their goals is by offering their technical expertise to local conservation groups and by helping landowners realize their conservation goals. Particularly impressive is the number of options available to landowners wishing to donate their land for conservation. Landowners can donate land outright or, if they wish to retain ownership, they can choose the conservation servitude route – a legal agreement whereby a landowner retains ownership of the land but agrees not to practice certain ecologically damaging activities such as construction, logging or draining wetlands. Another option is to draw up a management agreement with a local conservation organization or simply rent land out to them. Donations and agreements can cover as little as one hectare of land or as many as several hundred hectares.

The Appalachian Corridor’s website ( has a variety of testimonials from landowners who have taken the plunge and dedicated their land to one form of conservation or another. Their motives are very diverse as well as the means employed to achieve their goals. What is also abundantly clear from their stories is that donating land and starting conservation servitudes is more complicated than it sounds and that ACA greatly facilitates this process. “Without the Mount Pinnacle Land Trust and the Appalachian Corridor it would have been difficult to realize this dream which has been dear to us for many years,” one lady admits. Another contributor to the Mount Pinnacle Land Trust says, “after several meetings with the Mount Pinnacle Land Trust and the Appalachian Corridor team, I opted for the conservation servitude. They explained the process of establishing a servitude, and they supported me every step of the way.”

This ability to work with landowners and local organizations has not only helped to protect the natural landscape and the approximately 100 threatened or endangered species that can be found here, but has attracted national and international recognition for the Appalachian Corridor’s work. Last summer co-founder Francine Hone won second place in the Yves Rocher Institutes Terre de Femme awards recognizing women contributing to environmental issues. This summer the Appalachian Corridor received the Canadian Environment Awards’ Gold Medal in conservation ahead of other national conservation projects.

Natural conservation is an issue that deserves a bigger spotlight than it gets in the Townships. If anyone doubts how spoiled we are here with natural riches they can just ask any of the hoards of tourists pulled over in the most inopportune along backroads armed with their cameras and an eye for colourful fall leaves. While I wish they would choose not to park around blind corners, I sympathize with their appreciation of our region’s natural heritage. ACA’s work is giving Townshippers an opportunity to conserve this natural wonder and increases people’s awareness of it. What I find most encouraging, however, is that the instinct to preserve it already exists in our region as landowners voluntarily agree to donate their land or make arrangements ensuring that it will be conserved. It is a sign that Townshippers have the ability to look beyond their property lines and, with the help of the Appalachian Corridor, take action that will benefit not only themselves, but the entire population of the region today and for years to come.

1 comment:

Emile said...

Your article reminded me of an odd sighting I had in the Townships.
A few years ago, while driving on a back road in Dunham, I saw a Cougar.
I wondered how it could have survived to that point without being hit by a car or shot by a hunter.
It would have had to cross a few major highways before reaching the nearest part of the corridor, Pinnacle mountain.
Perhaps it was a lucky one.