Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Conservancy targets land to protect lynx - New Brunswick

Published Wednesday December 24th, 2008

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is planning to preserve more than three million acres of land stretching across northern New Brunswick, Quebec and Maine in order to save a dwindling population of lynx.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada wants to set up a protected zone in Restigouche for the rare animal. Conservancy planner Margo Morrison said Dec. 17 a plan to safeguard habitat for the endangered cat, which is included on New Brunswick's species-at-risk list, likely will be in place by the spring.

"This area came out as a really high priority for a number of different reasons," Morrison said. "It's a very important connection between Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine so it allows large mammals such as the Canada Lynx to move."

The project is mammoth.

The Restigouche River watershed, identified as the animal's prime habitat, spans 3.3 million acres from the Gaspe region of Quebec, through Campbellton to Saint-Quentin and the Maine boarder.

The preservation strategy is a departure for the nature conservancy, since it currently owns none of the land in the target area. The non-profit organization will identify key areas to be purchased while working with residents to maintain the area.

"This is an area that we have traditionally not worked in, so we want to be able to get it right and include everyone we need to," Morrison said.

"We are a science-based organization, so we have to have very detailed plans in place to identify all of the species, ecosystems and threats that we need to."

The Restigouche River Watershed Management Council, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society as well as Quebec and conservancy groups in the United States are involved in the preservation plan.

Morrison said the area was identified in March in an eco-regional plan that picked sites needing protection from 33 million hectares of land in the Maritimes, part of southern Quebec and four New England states.

The Restigouche watershed also includes important populations of Atlantic salmon.

The success of the program will be reviewed every five years, Morrison said. The conservancy would like to have the entire acreage safeguarded within the next 50 years.

"It looks like settlement may have caused some change in habitat conditions that had a negative impact on lynx," said Dwayne Sabine, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

"Certainly if you have a situation where there is unsuitable habitat such as urban areas and farm lands you don't have lynx."

Sabine said there has been a significant decline in the lynx population in New Brunswick over the years.

The large cats, known for their dense, silvery-brown coats and distinctive tufted ears, once roamed throughout the province. The population now is estimated at about 200 animals.

Pascal Giasson, manager of the province's species-at-risk program, said changes to an outdated Species at Risk Act, which had second reading Wednesday in the legislature, will create a formal process to protect lands to aid in the survival of endangered species.

He said the province can help the conservancy since a large part of the Restigouche watershed is Crown land.

"We have worked with the conservancy in the past - with the piping plover, for example," he said.

Morrison said the program will again need donations from the public to be successful.

"Land prices are quite high in the area, and it will be a challenge, but this is something that our plan will identify as some of the strategies we will be using to protect the land," she said.

"This project will allow the lynx to move into different parts of land suitable to them if food is scarce. Just maintaining that corridor allows them to go to wherever the food source is."


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