A tale of 3 departments and some very happy birds

Protecting wildlife habitats requires creativity and commitment.

Aerial photo of island surrounded by water in the Îles de la Paix archipelago.

As the government’s real property expert, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is often asked to help federal departments conserve habitats that allow plant and animal species to thrive.

In 2020, when Environment and Climate Change Canada and Infrastructure Canada requested assistance with separate habitat conservation challenges, PSPC proposed an innovative solution to meet all their requirements through a single project.

Birds benefit from a home renovation

Several islands in the Îles de la Paix archipelago, located near Montréal, are part of the Îles de la Paix National Wildlife Area (NWA) and Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS), which are managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The department was looking for ways to counter the effects of shoreline erosion on these islands, primarily due to the rising water levels of Lake Saint-Louis. This phenomenon threatened one of the last natural marshes providing critical habitat for the wildlife species frequenting the area.

At the same time, Infrastructure Canada needed to compensate for the loss of wetlands and migratory bird habitat elsewhere in the province, resulting from the Samuel De Champlain Bridge corridor project.

PSPC brought the departments together to collaborate on a project that saw the protection of the shoreline, as well as the improvement and creation of new wetlands and migratory bird habitats, in the NWA and MBS of the Îles de la Paix. We awarded the contracts and oversaw the completion of the work by qualified contractors.

Specifically, the project involved:

  • installing breakwaters to limit the effect of the waves on shoreline erosion
  • restoring more than 700 metres of beach shoreline with pebble refills
  • establishing new bird habitats by adding 5,900 plants and installing nest boxes
  • creating calm seagrass beds for fish by adding more than 9,000 underwater plants

Challenges and adventures

Intervening on a protected natural site, in a water environment no less, has its share of regulatory challenges. Charlotte Simard, from PSPC's Quebec office, points out that the project team had to "comply with a variety of federal and provincial laws and obtain multiple permits and authorizations."

Moreover, procuring native plant species to meet the intended ecological functions required expertise and planning, as these plants had to be grown by specialized suppliers for the specific needs of this project.

New plants in nature conservation area.

Luce Larivière, also from PSPC, notes that it was then a challenge to carry out the work at the site, as “the water levels were often high, making it difficult to complete the needed tasks.” The active beaver population also led to interesting situations. “Some tree trunks were so gnawed that the trees threatened to fall on workers’ heads,” she explains. So, extra occupational health and safety measures were put in place.

A feather in our caps

Thanks to the perseverance of all parties, the project was a success.

“This is the exciting part,” says Ms. Larivière, “seeing the plans made on paper come to life.” Still, Ms. Larivière and Ms. Simard point out that, with nature, patience is needed to confirm if the interventions have made it possible to achieve the ecological objectives. It takes time for the renewed ecosystem to be fully established.

Canada goose on nest.

Follow-up environmental monitoring has brought good news so far. “The breakwaters are protecting the new beaches and seagrass shorelines, and the birds are using the recreated habitats and nest boxes,” says Ms. Larivière. Consequently, the many creatures found on the islands are living well again and enjoying this exceptional habitat, while the work contributed to maintaining the biodiversity unique to Lake Saint-Louis.

PSPC and its federal partners are very proud of this project, which supports Canada’s Greening Government Strategy. Ms. Simard is particularly pleased with the dedicated participation of everyone involved and the outcomes they achieved together. “The innovations were beneficial because they were both cost-effective and improved the environmental conditions. This is consistent with the principles of sustainable development.”

Bertrand Comte, environmental affairs manager with Infrastructure Canada, agrees: “This project was the result of exemplary collaboration and consultation. It demonstrated leadership, vision and sound management.”

According to Charles Desrosiers, with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, “the expertise of the partners involved and their excellent collaboration” is what ultimately helped us meet the dual milestones of “increasing the habitats of the NWA and MBS while ensuring their long-term protection.”

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