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By Michael Boriero

Local Journalism Initiative

Nine conservation groups gathered in Rougemont Tuesday to announce the creation of a coalition, which aims to protect biodiversity in Quebec’s Monteregian Hills, a landscape that stretches through Montreal, the Monteregie and the Eastern Townships.

According to Chrystiane Collette, president of the Association du Mont Rougemont, this has been in the works for several years. Although each organization is unique, they share similar challenges and concerns, Collette explained, which led them to bond together.

“We want to be part of the decision-makers, we want to be at the table where the decisions are made, not just trying to have influence and everything. If there is a decision that has to be made, or there is a project, we want to be there and talk with them at the same level,” she said.

Collette told The Record that rather than tackling these issues as small individual organizations, with complaints often falling through the cracks of bureaucracy, the coalition will now carry more weight when it files a report or speaks out about environmental problems.

There is only one coordinator in her association, Collette said, and they need to dig through government grants in order to fund the position. The rest of the organization is made up of volunteers, which is why she wants more funding from all levels of government.

“These mountains, they have been more and more secluded because of the different municipalities around that are overdeveloping […] we need a corridor, a path, that they will continue to have this biodiversity,” said Collette.

She tried to implement supervised trails in Rougemont, but the area is mostly privately owned, and these owners were unwilling to allow people onto their land out of fear of theft, and property damage. It also costs a lot of money to maintain a fully supervised trail.

“We were talking about $150,000 or more just to implement it and then there is the yearly fees, the costs of having somebody because you cannot rely on somebody to do it without any pay, you cannot rely on that on a regular basis,” said Collette.

When it comes to dealing with environmental protection, it is usually passed down from the federal level, to the provincial, and then ponied off to municipal governments, who are always handcuffed due to high costs, and nearly non-existent resources, she added.

Collette said that the Nature Conservancy of Canada has also been collecting land for many years to protect the country’s wildlife. However, while she is optimistic about environmental protection, she believes it needs to start with educating the youth population.

“It’s a very long process. It’s the education that will change it. I believe that if we work together like today getting the expertise and trying to make sure that we have concrete actions done that will stay for generations to come, I believe that we can do it,” Collette said.

Kim Marineau, a biologist and vice-president of Éco-corridors laurentiens, noted that privately-owned property, promoters, and residential development all factor into the destruction of natural sites and landmarks in Quebec. And it will impact the fight against climate change.

“If governments don’t say ‘we want to have more conservation in Quebec, in the South of Quebec’, we will lose biodiversity and all of the environmental services that we need as humans; water, air, and everything that is important for agriculture,” said Marineau.

She believes in the coalition’s power to change the dynamics between conservation groups and governments in the province. They needed to stop taking action separately, she explained, and there was an urgent need for collaboration, especially in Southern Quebec.

There is also prolonged difficulty getting through to the general public. It’s hard for people to comprehend that there could be irreversible damage to the environment in just 10 or 20 years, she continued, and politicians are not moving fast enough to address the issue.

“It will be very difficult because we will lose, we will lose a lot of comfort for everybody. We will need more houses that are smaller, less resources, less possibility with transportation because fuel will be so expensive, so I’m very scared,” said Marineau.

The coalition includes Les Amis de la Montagne, Fondation du Mont-Saint-Bruno, Centre de la Nature du Mont Saint-Hilaire, the Centre d’interprétation du milieu écologique du Haut-Richelieu (CIME), Association du Mont Rougemont, Nature Cantons-de-L’Est, Société de conservation du Mont Brome, Conservation de la nature Canada, and Nature-Action Québec.

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