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Inefficacy of wetland legislation for conserving Quebec wetlands as revealed by mapping of recent disturbances


To minimize wetland losses, many jurisdictions have adopted a ‘mitigation sequence’ that requires compliance for permit delivery. This study evaluated the outcome of this sequence in the province of Quebec, Canada, during the 3 years following its adoption in 2006. A case study was then conducted in the St. Lawrence Lowlands (29,096 km2) to compare statistics on delivered permits with losses detected by detailed mapping of disturbances from two periods: 1990 to 2011 and 2006 to 2011. A total of 558 permits were issued, most of which (550) represented 2870 ha of disturbed wetlands; the remaining (8) corresponding to restoration projects. The mitigation sequence was applied for 323 of the permits, mainly with compensations. The type of action undertaken was registered for only 63 % of the compensations with a minimal fraction dedicated to wetland restoration (1 ha) and creation (14 ha), resulting in a net loss of 99 % of the impacted wetland areas. In the case study, 56,681 ha (19 %) of wetlands had been disturbed in the last two decades, of which 22,535 ha were disturbed between 2006 and 2011, mainly by agricultural and forestry activities. No permit was delivered for these two activities according to our compilation. The area disturbed following permit deliverance was about 17–30 times smaller than losses estimated by our detailed mapping, depending on the period considered. Preserving wetlands will require not only mandatory compliance with the mitigation sequence but also efforts to subscribe all types of industries to the process of permit delivery.

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We would like to thank our major project partners for their financial and technical support: Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques du Québec (Grant Number 04104-GQ10165), the Natural Sciences Engineering Research Council of Canada (Discovery Grant Number RGPIN-2014-05663 to MP and RGPIN-2014-05367 to SP) and the Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science. We wish to thank K. Grislis for the stylistic revision of this manuscript, J. Brisson, S. DeBlois and C. Lavoie for their input and useful comments at every stages of the project as well as two anonymous reviewers which made helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Monique Poulin.

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The project was funded by the Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques du Québec (Grant Number 04104-GQ10165) and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (discovery Grant Number RGPIN-2014-05663 to MP and RGPIN-2014-05367 to SP).

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Poulin, M., Pellerin, S., Cimon-Morin, J. et al. Inefficacy of wetland legislation for conserving Quebec wetlands as revealed by mapping of recent disturbances. Wetlands Ecol Manage 24, 651–665 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-016-9494-y

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  • Compensation
  • Conservation
  • Mitigation
  • No net loss
  • Restoration
  • Wetland policy
  • Wetland creation