Québec Ecological Corridors: A Strategy for Adapting to Climate Change

In 2017, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) along with 9 partner organizations proposed the Quebec Ecological Corridors Initiative in Southern Québec as a nature-based adaptation strategy. Climate change is posing a major risk to species, their habitats, and overall biodiversity across Canada. To help species adapt to climate change, 10 organizations in Québec led by the NCC are working towards protecting and conserving ecological corridors. Ecological corridors are land or water-based passageways that connect natural areas or habitats to meet the various ecological needs of plants and animals including adapting to climate change. In addition, ecological corridors are important carbon sinks, they can act as a safety net against climate change impacts like flooding or extreme heat, and they promote our overall well-being. Several scientific studies involving climate models and future scenarios were used to inform a map depicting significant connectivity zones and ecological corridors in Québec. Using funding from the Government of Québec, the Woodcock Foundation, Fondation de la faune du Québec, and the Echo Foundation, NCC and partnering organizations implemented Phase 1 (2017-2021) of the initiative to engage and mobilize local municipalities, forestry stakeholders, and the public. The objective was to create a collective approach to protect and conserve ecological corridors in Southern Québec through educational workshops, activities, meetings, online outreach, training, and written guidelines. Phase 2 (2021-2024) is underway with NCC and partnering organizations continuing to engage municipalities, forestry stakeholders, and the public as well as new partnerships with the agriculture industry and watershed groups. The initiative is continuing to promote knowledge and practical tools for conserving ecological corridors in Québec with intentions to expand the total area of protected and conserved land to strengthen climate change adaptation.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The impacts of climate change such as increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will affect ecosystems across Canada. For example, in Québec, some species’ habitats are predicted to shift northward by ~45 km with climate change. To conserve ecosystems and promote their adaptation to climate change, maintaining ecological corridors has been identified as a nature-based adaptation strategy. Ecological corridors are natural land or water-based passageways that allow animals to migrate, find food and shelter, reproduce, and adapt to climate change. Protecting and conserving ecological corridors can prevent habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss which is at risk due to climate change and increased urban development. Other co-benefits of conserving ecological corridors include promoting nature as a carbon sink, allowing wildlife to safely cross major transportation routes, preserving a natural safety net that can protect us against climate impacts, and maintaining our overall well-being. To help species adapt to climate change and to prevent biodiversity loss, the “Québec Ecological Corridors Initiative: A Strategy for Adapting to Climate Change” was launched. A map of ecological corridors in Southern Québec, extending east to New Brunswick and south to the USA was created to identify important ecological corridors for the initiative. The map with ecological corridor hotspots was informed by broad and regional scientific studies. For example, the Ouranos CC-Bio project used future climate change projections from the Canadian Regional Climate Model to determine the distribution and abundance of species in Québec under climate change. A collaboration between The Nature Conservancy (US) and the University of Washington also modelled the movement of species in North America using climate change projections to reveal corridors that would be needed by species to adapt to climate change. On a regional and local scale, each partner in the initiative conducted their own studies on ecological corridors and essential connectivity zones to inform the map and key conservation efforts.

Identifying Actions

The objective of the Quebec Ecological Corridors initiative is to collectively protect and conserve ecological corridors in Southern Québec as a nature-based adaptation strategy. The initiative is coordinated by the NCC who partnered with 9 organizations across 11 regions in Southern Québec. In each region, ecological corridor projects with specific objectives like identifying key connectivity zones, protecting species at risk, reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions, providing/protecting habitat, maintaining biodiversity, and providing connectivity are being executed. The initiative sought to support, engage, and mobilize local governments, municipalities, farmers, forest and woodlot owners, and the public to take effective action towards managing and conserving ecological corridors in these regions. Engagement and strategic focus would be specifically designed for different audiences to stimulate interest. For example, the strategic focus for municipalities would be to promote the value of ecological corridors in territorial land-use planning and the focus for forest and woodlot owners would be voluntary conservation and forest certification. In addition to engagement, the initiative would also promote the exchange of expertise and build a network of stakeholders who were knowledgeable on maintaining ecological corridors. In 2017, the NCC received ~$1 million from the Government of Québec Action-Climat Québec program to assist with Phase 1 of the initiative.

Implementation

From 2017-2021 Phase 1 of the Quebec Ecological Corridors Initiative was deployed in five key connectivity zones of Southern Québec. The first year of Phase 1 involved building the implementation team, promoting the initiative locally, and beginning to launch education sessions and meetings with target audiences. After initial positive feedback, NCC and partnering organizations continued to execute educational sessions, activities, workshops, meetings, and online outreach throughout Phase 1. Forest owners and forestry stakeholders were identified as an important target audience and the initiative worked to instill the value of ecological corridors in forest management plans. A cooperation agreement was generated with the Groupements Forestiers Québec which includes 28,000+ woodlot owners. T NCC also created a written guide for incorporating connectivity into forest management and offered training for forest advisers. The initiative engaged with the public to promote a better understanding of connectivity and the role the public could play in conserving ecological corridors. The initiative offered the public an opportunity to contribute to data collection of priority corridors and wildlife crossing hotspots through several apps: Stop carcasses!, Pistage Québec, and Carapace. During Phase 1, NCC also developed a strategic collaboration approach to create a stakeholder network for targeted regions, to help meet project mandates, and to optimize partnerships between Local/Regional and Provincial/Federal Government. At the end of Phase 1, the initiative was managing ~2000+ hectares in ecological corridors and capturing 50,000+ tons of carbon in Québec.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

NCC and 9 partners continue to remain active on the ground, planning and executing the various ecological corridor and connectivity projects. The initiative is also continuing to monitor ecological corridors and specifically wildlife crossing hotspots using cameras and the data collected from the public apps. This monitoring is essential to highlight hotspots where wildlife require safe crossing and help inform significant connectivity zones. Related to engagement, the initiative has continued to plan events and provide resources and educational tools for land-use planning and development. The initiative has been able to operate at the provincial and regional level with over 20 municipalities expressing interest in integrating ecological corridors into land-use planning. On a provincial scale, the initiative has been recognized by the Québec government and there have been opportunities to integrate ecological corridor recognition with provincial requirements for wetlands. In November 2020, NCC applied for more funding to expand the initiative to 6 more regions in Québec. As of April 2021, the NCC secured the 6 additional regions for a total of 11 regions and areas such as the Forillon ecological corridor in Gaspésie expanded.

Next Steps

The Quebec Ecological Corridor initiative is currently in Phase 2 (2021-2024). The initiative is continuing their strategic approach to protect and conserve more ecological corridors and monitor wildlife crossing hotspots where infrastructure investment is required for adaptation. There has been an emphasis on identifying priority corridors that are facing the most threats so that they can be prioritized by the initiative. Phase 2 of the initiative will also involve continued engagement with municipalities and regions to support development plans for corridors within wetlands and bodies of water that integrate conservation and biodiversity hotspots. Forestry stakeholders and the public will continue to be engaged through events and resources that foster knowledge development and conservation actions. New allies such as the agriculture industry have been identified and Phase 2 will promote developing resources specifically for agriculture. Watershed groups have also been identified as a new ally and are collecting data on aquatic connectivity and damaged culverts that should be restored to promote aquatic corridors and reduce flood risk.

Resources