In the heart of the forested area, a winding path leads us to a large maple tree. With its massive trunk and branches spread wide like open arms, it both commands respect and welcomes us. At the very top, a Barred Owl has made its nest!
If you spend any time on Mount Royal, you may have had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of this beautiful owl and appreciate the beauty of this natural environment, a true jewel for the people of Montreal. But if you look closely, you will surely have noticed that the mountain has been compromised in many ways, and that it is fighting an exhausting battle against enormous pressures coming at it from all directions.
If the increased number of visitors to the mountain is a sign of success in terms of its attractiveness and the growing feeling of a need for closeness to nature, the lack of signage and protection is problematic.
Over the past several years, the number of informal trails has increased, requiring rapid intervention by the City of Montreal to halt the spreading damage. Heavy human foot traffic is causing the soil to deteriorate, leading to problems of erosion, and undermining the vegetation, which can lead in turn to disease, insect pests and invasive plants.
Around the perimeter of Mount Royal, residential, commercial and institutional developments are gradually eroding this already limited and fragmented terrain. Finally, climate change is bringing with it increasingly intense heat waves and prolonged droughts, resulting in the loss of diversity and the degradation of nature.
And then there are the ice storms, which wreak havoc on the entire canopy. We saw this very clearly last week.
We need to act fast
Despite being granted heritage status in 2015 and despite the efforts of numerous organizations to protect the mountain, the natural environments continue to be degraded year after year. At COP15 last December, we welcomed the announcement that Mount Royal Park would be expanded and that the mineralized spaces would be reduced, particularly in the Smith House parking lots, but we consider that the timeframe for doing this will be too long. The plan, while initially encouraging, will in fact take 20 years to be fully implemented. We need to do more and do it faster!
The political establishment has the capacity to be agile and to inspire us. All we have to do is think about the Great Western Park project, which will eventually encompass over 3,000 hectares on the West Island of Montreal. All of this is thanks to the strong political will of the municipal authorities and the mobilization of civil society to protect the natural environment of this unique ecosystem, located right in the heart of an urban environment.
A clear plan
The science is clear on the subject: forested areas and natural environments serve as islands of coolness and lungs within cities. They are essential to strengthening the resilience of our living environments against the impacts of climate change.
At the rate we see the climate currently changing, Montreal's temperature could be as much as 3.2°C higher by 2050. Who could live with this kind of heat? Probably not the Barred Owl, and certainly not us.
The overview of the Mount Royal Local Conservation Plan produced by Les amis de la montagne, which was published recently by the Coalition des Montérégiennes, identifies a number of significant pressures on the mountain and sets out the most important actions that need to be undertaken over the next five years. We are pleased with this mobilization of conservation organizations and the adoption of a broader vision for the entire Montérégie region as measures are being taken to implement the revised Metropolitan Land Use and Development Plan.
The time for action is now—rapid, ambitious action that is commensurate with the seriousness of the climate emergency. Consolidating connectivity, increasing the size of the areas designated as natural environments, granting legal protection status in perpetuity—we need to act simultaneously on a whole host of fronts if we are to safeguard the health of this jewel that is Mount Royal.
This is the most beautiful expression of love that we can give it.
- Emmanuel Rondia, General Manager, Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal
- Alain Branchaud, General Manager, SNAP Québec