Protected areas beneficial to health, report finds

Quebec would have everything to gain by improving its network of protected areas, since these natural areas have positive repercussions in terms of public health. This is the conclusion of a new report published Tuesday by the group “The Planet invites itself in health”. But for the moment, the province is still lagging behind in its commitments to preserve natural terrestrial and marine environments.

Reduction in obesity and hypertension, fight against various chronic diseases, including diabetes and coronary heart disease, clean air and water … At a time when more Quebecers are spending their holidays than ever taking advantage of nature, the report piloted by health professionals, and which is based on numerous studies, shows that the positive effects of protected areas on the health of populations are manifold.

“The benefits to mental health and well-being are also significant, particularly in terms of reducing anxiety, depression and irritability,” said the document, entitled “Essential Protected Areas for health “. The mental health benefits are both direct, “when exposed to protected areas,” and indirect, “particularly through activities occurring in protected areas,” such as hiking or camping.

“During an anxiety attack like the one we experienced, we notice that people feel a strong need to find themselves in nature. Giving better access to nature through protected areas is a public health measure that will allow us to strengthen our resilience, ”adds Alice Québec’s Executive Director, Alice-Anne Simard.

The protection of the territory is also a means of combating climate upheavals. “However, it has already been shown in the course of numerous research studies that the effect of climate change on the health of Quebecers is likely to be major,” said the report, noting the expected increase in the number of heat waves, forest fires and floods.

Prevention

For the Dre Sarah Bergeron, specialist in family medicine and responsible for the report piloted by La Planète invites herself in health, better protecting natural environments therefore amounts to investing in “prevention”, which also has the effect of reducing costs for health system.

“Health is an important item of expenditure for the Quebec government. The increase in the area of ​​protected areas could reduce costs due to co-benefits on health “, summarizes Mme Bergeron. “The government of Quebec therefore has every interest in increasing the area of ​​protected areas on its territory because of the many associated human benefits. “

The director general of the Société pour la nature et les parcs du Québec, Alain Branchaud, stresses, however, that it is essential that the population can have better access to protected areas, which would in particular involve preserving more natural environments located in the southern Quebec.

Mr. Branchaud cites as an example seven Bas-Saint-Laurent territories that were identified in 2013 for the creation of protected areas, following a regional consultation. “These territories total 700 km2. And if protected areas are primarily intended for preservation, this is not usually incompatible with access to the territory. It would therefore be a great opportunity to increase the supply of nature to Quebecers, “he said.

However, the government has still not instituted protective measures for these natural environments, since companies have held oil and gas exploration licenses there for several years. A situation that could recur in several regions, since there are 45,846 km2 exploration permits in Quebec (256 permits), according to data from the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. In Bas-Saint-Laurent alone, there are 8,509 km2 permits, but they also exist in the Gaspé Peninsula and in the lowlands of the St. Lawrence.

Provincial delay

Quebec is also lagging far behind in protecting natural terrestrial and marine environments. Under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Quebec committed in 2010 to protect 10% of its marine environments and 17% of terrestrial environments by the end of 2020. This rate currently reaches 1.9 % for marine environments and 10.7% for natural terrestrial environments.

In the case of the marine environment, protection projects identified in the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence could however emerge in the coming months, according to recently revealed The duty. They would add 12,000 km2 protected areas. In the case of terrestrial environments, several projects are also on the table, but some are blocked by the presence of oil and gas exploration permits, or even mining titles.

The Legault government believes it will be able to meet the commitments made by Quebec. “We are continuing to work hard to catch up with the Liberals and meet our territorial protection targets,” the office of Environment Minister Benoit Charette said by email.

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