The fight is on to protect urban wildlife in Montreal |  Radio-Canada News

The fight is on to protect urban wildlife in Montreal | Radio-Canada News

Despite a cold, steady drizzle on a Montreal afternoon, Chris Breier thought it was the best time to do his volunteer work at Falaise St-Jacques, an escarpment west of downtown.

Five days a week for most of the year since he retired, Breier has maintained the slope of a tricky forest sandwiched between St-Jacques Street in the Notre-Dame-de- Through Montreal, Highway 20 and a railroad.

He helps maintain the paths that zigzag through the woods, setting up logs to mark these paths and cutting vines to prevent them from strangling the trees.

Each time, he’ll spend about “three to five hours – I really should do three, but I can’t stop,” said Breier, who was a sound, light and camera guy during the course. of his decades of television career.

“It’s the most incredible thing I could have discovered when I retired,” he said. “The health benefits of this forest are extremely important to the community.”

Before volunteers started tending to it in recent years, the forest had become a dumping ground for everything from household trash and tires to the dirty snow that had accumulated in parking lots.

Volunteers like Breier are essential to Montreal’s urban biodiversity, according to local environmentalists who hope the city’s attention to hosting COP15 this month will lead to the expansion of more green spaces across its territory and greater involvement of citizens in their maintenance.

They want leaders around the world to understand the importance of supporting wildlife – not just outside of cities, but inside them too.

A man with a toque and vest stands at the bottom of a ravine on a gray rainy day.
Chris Breier volunteers at the Falaise St-Jacques escarpment in Montreal’s NDG neighborhood five days a week. He says he enjoys the health benefits of being in the forest. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“It is essential that city dwellers feel connected to nature,” said Roger Jochym, coordinator of save the cliffa group that fights to protect and promote the natural beauty of the escarpment, which is a habitat for birds, foxes, butterflies and one of the largest populations of brown snakes in the province.

“Young people…should be able to get out of their classroom, walk a few blocks and be out in nature, in a natural setting, and understand what they are learning in the classroom.”

In a statement on what to expect at this year’s COP15, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) cited the fragmentation of natural areas as one of the main issues the conference expects to face. to land.

“Land use fragmentation and changes – driven by agriculture and urban sprawl – are responsible for 80% of biodiversity loss in many regions,” he said.

Connecting natural spaces, levels of government

In its 2023 budget, released last month, the City of Montreal announced its intention to spend $180.9 million on natural infrastructure, including parks and green spaces to help absorb rainwater and curb the heat retention.

The city says it also plans to increase connections between natural spaces with a network of “green corridors”. Corridors connecting green spaces can help wildlife move from one area to another, enhancing the biodiversity of each. Conservationists have observed a decline in species over the years on Mount Royal, with few other green space options for the animals.

Last month, ahead of COP15, Montreal announced that it was adopting a multi-year plan to protect pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, through a number of actions, including increasing the area of protected natural environments by 10% by 2030, and revise cleanliness regulations to reduce mowing and allow plant patches to grow.

According to Park People, a national charity that collects data on urban parks across Canada, Montreal has a total of 6,446 hectares of parks and green spaces. By comparison, Toronto has 8,086 hectares and the city of Vancouver has 1,164.

Mount Royal Park represents 200 hectares and the escarpment makes about 33.

Catherine Houbart, executive director of the advocacy organization Group of recommendations and actions for a better environment (GRAME), says that although the city, under the leadership of Mayor Valérie Plante, has made progress in protecting and promoting biodiversity, there are still barriers between the different levels of government.

Catherine Houbart, Executive Director of GRAME, says the different levels of government must work together to improve the links between green spaces in Montreal. (Mathieu B. Morin)

His office is located near the Lachine Canal, a 14 km long national historic site managed by Parks Canada that attracts hordes of people during the warmer months. The banks of the canal are covered in grass, but not much else.

On a section of it in the Pointe-Saint-Charles district, Houbart points out the stumps of trees that have been cut and not replaced. Although attracting everyone in the summer, there is hardly any shade to escape the sun and heat.

“We need that shade, we need that canopy, and we need to use big spaces like the Lachine Canal to add canopy to our city,” Houbart said.

And while Houbart sees the canal as a perfect place to contribute to the city’s goal of increasing its tree cover by 20-26% by 2025, the land belongs to Parks Canada.

She says the variation in public land ownership between levels of government can sometimes present bureaucratic obstacles to progress.

Jochym and his group encountered such a barrier with the escarpment. The Ministère des Transports du Québec owns the portion of land at the bottom of the escarpment and has created a park and a cycle path approximately 1.5 km long.

But in 2018, the department withdrew from its plans the creation of a “green” footbridge crossing the railway and the highway that would have connected the boroughs of Sud-Ouest, Lachine and Côte-des-Neiges–Notre -Dame-de-Grâce for people — and animals.

“There should be a continuity network for biodiversity through ecological corridors,” Jochym said, noting that the bridge could serve as a corridor for wildlife. “It would increase the variety of flora and fauna that are seen in these areas.”

The ministry said it would consider building the bridge. The group is pushing for it to release a plan and funding.

A man in a bright red jacket and bucket hat stands at the bottom of the escarpment below St-Jacques Street.
According to Roger Jochym of Save the Cliff, city dwellers should be able to access natural areas a few steps from their homes. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Malcolm McRae, another member of save the cliffis responsible for the 10 bird feeders set up along the trails in the escarpment forest.

McRae rides his bike almost everywhere and relaunched the Montreal Bicycle Club five years ago. During the pandemic, he began photographing the birds of the escarpment.

“It changed my life. It really changed me. Just the interest in birds and everything. It became something that I’m aware of,” McRae said. He believes the area has the potential to be a bird sanctuary, teeming with chickadees and nuthatches.

A Pileated Woodpecker clung to a nearby tree as it approached one of the bird feeders.

Panels along the footpaths of the Falaise St-Jacques allow you to identify the fauna and flora. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“Protect What’s Left”

There is little left to conserve in Montreal, said Julien Poisson, program director at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), a land conservation organization that helps manage and restore public and private lands.

Thus, the NCC focused on areas at either end of the island to allow wildlife connections between the lands north and south of it.

“In Montreal, my message is to protect what’s left,” he said, echoing Houbart in noting that much of the city’s green space is fragmented and uneven across neighborhoods.

A satellite map on his computer reveals, for example, the stark contrast of green and gray between the affluent town of Mount Royal and the densely populated adjacent neighborhood of Parc-Extension.

“Biodiversity is everything that is alive,” Poisson said. “I tell people to open their eyes. It may be small in the city, but it’s all around.”

Raccoons, chickadees, dandelions, squirrels — they all count, he said.

The goals that the nearly 200 countries at COP15 will agree on later this month may seem distant to ordinary people, but Poisson said he wants people to know that everyone can do something. .

“You can even start by not killing the spiders you see in your home,” he laughed.

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