Photo Credit: Boreal River
The Fight to Protect the Magpie River
Many people ask themselves if signing a petition or going to a protest can actually make a difference. We saw proof of this recently. Yes! It can make a real difference – and what’s more, at an unbelievable speed!
The Quebec section of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (aka CPAWS Quebec) has been working hard for more than ten years to protect the Magpie River, a pristine river in the heart of the Canadian boreal forest. It is located on the ancestral land of the Innu First Nation. These people have known the river, which they call Mutehekau Shipu, for centuries. The Magpie River is ranked among the best rivers in the world for whitewater expeditions by many magazines, including the prestigious National Geographic. I sometimes call it our Canadian “Colorado River”.
A Tale of Patience and Perseverance
Unfortunately, as is the case for many whitewater destinations, there were plans to dam the river. However, we have always thought of the Magpie River as a sustainable and long term recreational project which will diversify the economy of northern regions – too often dependent upon temporary resource extraction.
The list of actions taken to protect the Magpie River, with the help of partners such as Conservation Alliance, is impressive: participation in public hearings, launch of a petition, organized trips on the river with the media and important stakeholders, numerous meetings with politicians, public conferences and promotional campaigns, reports, studies and press releases, etc. Some people say it takes a lot of patience to work on files concerning protected areas. I could not agree more. A government official once told me that the average time to create a protected area in Quebec is ten years!
An Unexpected Ending
Two weeks ago, we decided that we needed to increase the pressure and send a clear message that damming a world class river is not an option. Since we believe that a message is more likely to be heard when it is positive and original, we decided to plan a “flash mob” in front of the state energy company, Hydro Quebec. We brought a rafting boat, paddlers, a symbolic giant river, a drum troop and a foam machine along with us. We brought the river and its voice with us.
We were heard! My speech was interrupted by one of my colleagues announcing to me that Hydro-Quebec came down to tell us they were not planning to dam the Magpie River anymore. At first I thought it was a joke, but an official from the state company was offered the microphone and said exactly that, in front of the cameras and the cheering crowd.
So yes, taking to the streets can make a difference. In our case, it was incredibly fast. The fight for the Magpie River is not over until it is fully and legally protected. But this is a giant step and the main obstacle to protecting the river has now been removed. It is up to us to tell the Quebec government that they have all the arguments they need to protect the river once and for all.
Coordinator of the Magpie river campaign
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Quebec)
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