This summer, The duty crosses the waters of the St. Lawrence River, that vast “almost ocean, almost Atlantic” singing Charlebois, and its environs to feed a row. Today, the Île aux Lièvres is an important milestone in biodiversity, protected thanks to biologists passionate about seabirds.
“A few weeks ago we could have seen several eider ducks. There were some nearby, in front of the rocks. We saw females with their chicks. On Le Gros Pot, just across the island, you could also see other species. It was full of birds. It was beautiful to look at,” summarizes Jean Bédard, President and Founder of Duvetnorthe non-profit society that has managed the Île aux Lièvres for almost 40 years.
At the time of the passage of Have to On this island, 10 km from Rivière-du-Loup, almost all the common eider ducks had left this important breeding area to disperse to the Saint-Lawrence estuary. Nevertheless, we were able to observe a few female eiders here and there several other bird species Sailors, but also seals and the occasional couple of white-backed beluga whales roaming their summer habitat. “The islands in the area are very important for seabirds. These are very interesting natural environments for several species of seabirds, but also for the biodiversity of the Saint Lawrence Estuary,” says Mr. Bédard, a conservation pioneer in Quebec.
However, what is most striking when you follow the few discovery trails on the Île aux Lièvres is the very well preserved natural beauty of this 13 km long and at most 1.5 km wide forested area. Between the south coast, which allows you to observe the Bas-Saint-Laurent and the trio of Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie islands, and the north coast, which offers the mountains of Charlevoix as a backdrop, which, moreover, the The visitor mostly finds himself alone gazing at the magnificent landscapes. And everything is in the heart of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Parkbut not part of it.
island for sale
Even if the biodiversity richness of the places is evident, the protection of this ecosystem could never have been realized without the will of the biologists who decided to create Duvetnor in 1979. “Some dreamed of setting up a hunting camp on this island. They could have brought in white-tailed deer to make some kind of little anticosti out of it. There was this kind of pressure and the island was put up for sale. Sooner or later there would have been a buyer. But we saw it coming and knew that this island was important to ensure the protection of the other islands in the region. Without this, we headed towards the development of resorts and mass tourism,” recalls Jean Bédard.
In order to avoid the Île aux Lièvres falling into the hands of promoters, the means had to be found to acquire it. However, the interest of policy makers was not there at the time, says Mr Bédard. “We’ve come a long way. It was the Middle Ages. There was no interest. Parks Canada discussed creating the marine park, but the department did not envision the islands being part of the marine park. However, they are biological environments subordinate to the marine environment. Seabirds and seals are among them. »
Therefore, while Duvetnor continues his efforts with the federal government, Duvetnor embarks on the Harvest eiderdownto collect donations. It must be said that in addition to the Île aux Lièvres and the Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie islands, thousands of these birds nest on islands in this region of the estuary. “I noticed that some of the down was harvested very roughly. I then had the idea of proposing to the government to carry out the harvest but based on a scientific approach that generates knowledge about the species and helps to protect it. »
This harvest, which still accounts for an important part of Duvetnor’s income today, takes place at the end of spring. At this time, female eider ducks incubate their eggs by protecting them from the cold with down they tear from their own bodies. The pickers therefore collect part of it while going from nest to nest. The operation makes it possible to monitor the populations but also subsequently to produce a purified down that is entirely exported.
“When we had to sell, we started a project to buy islands. We present the idea of protecting the wealth of the Saint Lawrence Islands while promoting a form of intelligent tourism that respects wildlife,” explains Mr. Bédard.
After Duvetnor managed to convince policymakers of the merits of his project, Duvetnor was able to acquire the islands of the Pèlerins archipelago, the Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie islands and the Île aux Lièvres, of which it became the owner in the year 1986. In 1989, the company decided to open to the public. It then develops campsites and other accommodation infrastructure and buys boats to transport visitors.
“There is nothing commercial in our management. Everything we do is to enrich the experience of visitors who come to discover something extraordinary while protecting the island,” argues Jean Bédard during a visit to the island’s main solar-powered facilities.
While he concedes that activity has long been in deficit, he believes the island’s reputation is suffering is now well established. Despite this, the occupancy of the territory will always remain modest, with a maximum of eight huts, an inn with nine rooms and around twenty campsites. And on the nearby Île du Pot du Phare, a maximum of six visitors at a time can spend a night in the Grade II listed lighthouse, which is being renovated and maintained by Duvetnor, making it its visual hallmark.
The aim of the departure therefore remains to preserve this ecosystem on land and at sea, affirms Mr. Bédard. Duvetnor persuaded the Quebec government to purchase most of the island a few years ago. This part is now listed as a ‘Proposed Biodiversity Reserve’. “Île aux Lièvres is one of twenty islands between Kamouraska and the confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence. These islands and the sea space separating them are of great importance for coastal and marine fauna. The location and size of the Île aux Lièvres make them the cornerstone of wildlife conservation in the St. in the official document Detailing the ecological importance of this area.
Having fought to preserve several islands in the region, now acquired, Jean Bédard still fears new threats, mainly related to the effects of global warming on the Saint Lawrence River. “We see areas where the oxygen is declining and the water is warming. We are facing a degradation. We see this in the decline or disappearance of certain fish stocks such as herring and capelin. We are about to lose the estuary just as we are about to lose the beluga. I am very pessimistic. We face inevitable destruction. But I prefer to stay in action. »
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