The federal government is making global biodiversity promises even as it refuses to preserve land it owns in the Technoparc, home to monarch butterflies and more than 200 species of birds.
With the world watching, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau portrays Canada as a world leader in preserving nature, but his government is too meek to step in to protect 155 hectares of wetlands that Ottawa owns near Montreal airport, critics charged Friday.
Known as the Technoparc, it’s an ecologically sensitive area that’s home to monarch butterflies and more than 200 species of birds, 14 of which are considered at risk by the federal government.
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Aéroports de Montréal, the airport authority, has a long-term lease on the land in Dorval and St-Laurent, an area that includes marsh, forest and a section named the Monarch Fields because it is frequented by the migrating butterfly.
“There is a broad consensus on the fact that we must protect this space, which is as big as Mount Royal Park,” federal NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said in an interview Friday.
“Imagine if Mount Royal Park were threatened with industrial development. No one would accept that, but it’s the same with that space out in western Montreal.”
Twenty-six cities and boroughs in the Montreal area have called for the area to be conserved.
He was speaking after a press conference at which elected officials from all levels of government joined bird and butterfly advocates in urging federal ministers Steven Guilbeault (environment) and Omar Alghabra (transport) to block the airport authority from ever developing the land.
They gathered a few blocks from the Palais des congrès. That’s where Canada is hosting 20,000 delegates at the United Nations COP15 biodiversity conference, where Trudeau and Guilbeault are pressing countries to protect 30 per cent of their land and water by 2030.
Critics say the federal government should start with its own land near the airport, described as one of the island’s last significant expanses of unprotected natural green space.
They say the area is under threat. This past summer, the airport authority cut down thousands of milkweed plants that monarch butterflies rely on. A plan to build a mask plant on the Monarch Fields ended in January when the manufacturer backed down in the face of opposition.
Katherine Collin, of the Technoparc Oiseaux conservation group, said by not amending its lease with the airport, the federal government is “leaving the fate of this biodiversity in the hands of the developers.”
In July, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the monarch butterfly to its “red list” of threatened species and categorized it as “endangered” — two steps from extinct.
Along with other insects, the monarch is a pollinator, helping to transfer pollen from one flowering plant to another, Environment Canada says. “This fertilizes the plants so they can produce seeds and fruit. Without pollinators, many crops and wildflowers would not exist.”
On Friday, Guilbeault said he intends to protect monarchs and their habitats but that must wait until the butterfly is designated endangered in Canada. That is expected to happen soon, he said.
“That will oblige the federal government to protect the monarch’s habitat, notably on federal land,” Guilbeault told reporters in a videoconference briefing about COP15. “I’ll have more power to protect the monarch and its habitat in the months to come.”
But it won’t be enough to only protect areas where monarchs are concentrated, said Alan DeSousa, mayor of St-Laurent borough.
“Those lands are a contiguous whole, meaning the animals and the birds and the bees and the butterflies don’t know the frontiers,” he said in an interview.
“We want it protected as a whole. These are intricately linked ecosystems with many different species, not just monarchs.”
DeSousa added: “This land is owned by every citizen in Canada. The federal government represents Canadian citizens so this land can and should be preserved for future generations.”
Among those joining the call to safeguard the Technoparc on Friday were Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy and Alejandra Zaga Mendez, a Québec solidaire MNA.
“Preserving the integrity of the wetlands surrounding the airport is no longer an option — it’s our duty to protect the rich biodiversity found there,” Rizqy said.
Zaga Mendez said urban wetlands and urban fields are “oases for biodiversity. We can’t afford to add to the biodiversity crisis. We expect Ottawa to take concrete action in front of the international community.”
Among the projects in the works: a new “metropolitan park” on Île-Ste-Thérèse in the St. Lawrence River.
The Technoparc, near Trudeau airport, is an ecologically sensitive area that includes wetlands and is home to 200 species of migratory birds.
A group hopes to paralyze the event, as “for too long these states have organized so-called green conventions so that their hypocrisy goes unnoticed.”
Documentary on clearcutting in Canada is being shown in conjunction with the conference on biodiversity.
From the concert pit to the campaign trail to the hockey rink, these are some of the standout images that didn’t make it into the Montreal Gazette’s print edition this year.
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