In 2016, Quebec ceded 62 hectares of land to a small Beauceron village to turn it into a green space. Eight years later, the elected officials of Saint-Simon-les-Mines authorized “for monetary reasons” the cutting of thousands of trees in an area of ​​high ecological value. The municipality risks being fined for violating a federal law intended to protect migratory birds.

“Know that cutting down trees for the sake of cutting down trees, we have no interest in doing that. The only reason why we decided to do it was a monetary reason for the municipality. We administer money, unfortunately,” responded the mayor of Saint-Simon-les-Mines, André Lapointe, at the last meeting of the municipal council, on June 4.

The mayor then responded to a question from a citizen about a tree felling operation on land belonging to the municipality, land located near a private protected area, the Cumberland nature reserve, recognized by the Ministry of the Environment.

“What we calculated with this cut, we could easily withdraw a net $100,000,” said the magistrate in an interview with La Presse. However, the contractor hired by the municipality was only able to cut down 2 hectares out of the 26 that were planned, underlines Mr. Lapointe.

On May 27, the municipality announced that it was “temporarily suspending regeneration cutting” on its lot in order to comply with the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. Federal law provides in particular that it is prohibited to destroy bird nests during the nesting period in the country.

An Environment Canada spokesperson confirmed to La Presse that a verbal and written order was sent to the municipality to put an end to the tree cutting operation. “If they [the agents] observe suspected infractions, the agents will act according to the compliance and enforcement policy,” specifies Samuel Lafontaine. It should be noted that federal agents recovered the body of a dead baby bird after the trees were cut down.

“It was done in good faith. […] We didn’t know this law. We know that there are protected species somewhere in Quebec, but knowing that this law had as much teeth as that, we didn’t know. We learned it,” summarizes the mayor.

The municipality says it wants to resume the cutting operation after August 16, to comply with Environment Canada’s order.

In 2016, this lot was transferred free of charge to Saint-Simon-les-Mines by its former owner, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MERN). The notarized contract provides that “the transfer is granted free of charge for the purposes of a municipal park-green space”. It is also provided that the lot cannot be used for other purposes or sold without the authorization of the Ministry for a period of 30 years.

In October 2021, Saint-Simon-les-Mines had also adopted a resolution to negotiate the sale of the lot to a conservation organization, Capital Nature, which said it was ready to acquire it. Another resolution proposed by André Lapointe, then municipal councilor, supported the creation of a protected area on the land in question.

According to the general director of Capital Nature, David Viens, there were no real negotiations with the municipality since the MERN was opposed to the idea that Saint-Simon-les-Mines could sell the land that had been given to it. offered free of charge.

“In 2016, when they ceded the land [to the municipality], the objective was to remove this lot from forestry, to protect it,” maintains Mr. Viens.

“Their point is that we were given the land, we should give it back. We don’t agree with that. If you inherit a piece of woodland from your grandfather, you don’t have to give it away. It’s a bit the same principle,” says Mayor André Lapointe. “It’s land that seems to have value,” he adds. On their part [Capital Nature], it’s because it’s a mature forest. On our part, it is a forest that is due to be thinned. »

A study carried out in 2015 by the Appalachian Corridor organization on behalf of the Cumberland Wetlands Protection Association targeted the lot as having “strong ecological value”. “There are several species with status, including the eastern wood-pewee and the Canada warbler [two species listed on the federal register of endangered species],” points out the president of the association, Jean Poulin.

For its part, the Ministry of Natural Resources says it takes “very seriously the denunciation of forest development work underway on the lot.” In a written communication obtained by La Presse, the public land management advisor, Marie-Ève ​​Paré, indicates that a site visit will be carried out during the week of June 17. The Ministry also intends to verify “whether the actions taken by the municipality contravene the restrictive clause included in the [notarial] deed”.

“I don’t see where the breach of contract is. We never said we wouldn’t do the municipal park-green space. […] Yes, they may find it annoying, but in life, annoying things happen,” replies Mayor Lapointe.