Aquatic ecosystem restoration (La Mauricie National Park)
Project lead: Parks Canada
Key partners: (see list below)
Location: La Mauricie National Park
Natural region: Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Precambrian Region
Ecozone: Boreal shield
Timeframe: September 2004 to November 2010
Project size: The project involved at least 12 of the park’s lakes.
Project overview - Natural and cultural heritage values - Defining the problem - Goals and objectives - Project activities - Monitoring - Lessons learned - What’s next? - For more information - Contacts - Key partners
Parks Canada led the restoration of aquatic ecosystems in La Mauricie National Park. The project focused on re-establishing the natural structure and function of lakes and streams that had deteriorated as a result of past forestry and timber driving practices. Water levels were restored by removing dams, and riparian habitats (on the banks of rivers or lakes) were improved by removing accumulated logs. In addition, measures were taken to ensure the long-term viability of native fish communities, including brook trout, which were especially at risk from introduced fish species.
The actions undertaken by La Mauricie National Park restoration team demonstrate the best practice approach described in Principles and guidelines for ecological restoration in Canada’s protected natural areas. The process of ecological restoration, as described by this approach, adheres to three guiding principles. It should be:
- effective in restoring and maintaining ecological integrity,
- efficient in using practical and economic methods to achieve functional success, and
- engaging through implementing inclusive processes and by recognizing and embracing interrelationships between culture and nature.
Natural and cultural heritage values
La Mauricie National Park is a landscape of rolling hills and deep valleys characteristic of the Lower Laurentian Mountains. The park represents, among its heritage values, a network of lakes, ponds, streams and rivers resulting from the passage of glaciers. The park also provides habitat for a diversity of aquatic and riparian plants and wildlife, some of which are rare or unique, including freshwater Arctic char and genetically unique brook trout populations.
Defining the problem
Forestry took place in the park from about 1850 until 1970, the year the park was created. During that time, all useable lakes and streams were transformed for the purpose of floating logs. Dams and water diversions were built on most of the lakes to raise water levels, while streams were levelled and channelled to permit the passage of logs. Waterlogged wood, sometimes quite large logs or trunks, accumulated on the bottom, along shores, and at the mouths of lakes. The original shoreline was scoured following the rise in water levels, with the result that the riparian (shoreline) habitats were modified or eliminated.
Over the years, many species of fish were introduced to the parks’ lakes, such as smallmouth bass and white sucker, and these alien species had disrupted the structure of the aquatic community in various ways. The most significantly affected native species was the brook trout. In addition, the only population of Arctic char in the park, found in Lac Français, was threatened by the presence of introduced fish species and habitat degradation.
Goals and objectives
The project “From Log to Canoe” in La Mauricie National Park focused on restoring water levels and a natural hydrological regime (variations in the water cycle) to the aquatic ecosystems affected by past forestry practices. Riparian habitats were improved by the removal of logs and the lowering of lake levels as a result of dam removal. Protecting the integrity of the park’s unique brook trout and Arctic char populations was another important objective of the project. Engaging the public involved developing a concept of recreational experience and harmonious discovery of these renewed aquatic ecosystems.
A Strategic Environmental Assessment was undertaken for the project as a whole to allow for early identification of major challenges and opportunities. This process resulted in recommendations to guide 15 individual environmental assessments for different elements (lakes) of the project. These were done in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada when the restoration activities influenced fish habitat. Environmental characterizations were carried out for all lakes before the restoration activities started.
The riparian habitats of eight lakes were restored by removing accumulations of logs and debris from shorelines. Where water-logged and sunken logs blocked lake outlets and interfered with natural hydrological processes (e.g., by raising water levels), they were removed. In total, over 13,000 14-foot hemlock logs have been recovered in this way. With the return of lower water levels and the removal of debris, riparian habitats are improving.
The water levels of six lakes were restored by removing old dams and road structures such as bridges and culverts.
The integrity of the fish communities of six lakes was improved by eliminating the introduced (alien) fish species. Brook trout were then re-introduced into these six lakes, with appropriate genetic strains representing local populations. In Lac Patrick, only a year after alien fish were eliminated, a pair of loons nested successfully on the lake, beavers rebuilt their dams, and frogs re-colonized the shoreline.
Selection of lakes for restoration was influenced by the potential for multiple positive outcomes, including the ability of the project to engage Canadians.
Efficient use of scientific studies was a key factor in the success of the program. The team carrying out the project sought advice from scientists as well as an advisory committee made up of scientists, Parks Canada specialists, and managers from other government departments.
The wood from recovered logs has been used in a variety of projects in the park including educational materials, artistic sculptures, and the construction of a new interpretive structure at Lake Bouchard.
The restoration project has provided opportunities for visitors to enhance their understanding and appreciation of ecological patterns and processes. A renewed and stimulating educational program has been especially designed for youth.
Visitors have new opportunities to discover and experience nature in ways that help to broaden their sense of attachment to La Mauricie.
Community members, individuals and groups have opportunities to work together towards a common vision.
Nearly 350 students from area secondary schools competed in a poster contest. The class that created the winning poster helped re-introduce trout to three lakes.
Students from four local elementary schools were invited to create works of art from the unusual stumps left behind from the logging era.
A follow-up monitoring program was developed to evaluate effectiveness of the restoration efforts over the coming years. Monitoring of fish species and other aquatic organisms is ongoing, both within and outside the park boundaries. The monitoring program covers elements such as the impact of dam dismantlement, lake depth, evolution of the shore areas, water quality, vegetation succession, fish populations, communities and spawning areas. Project activities and results are evaluated and reported regularly through newsletters, as well as through more formal assessment and reporting structures such as Environmental Assessment and State of the Park reporting. (Learn more about Monitoring in National Parks.)
- Good project management skills are essential.
- An advisory committee should be in place for complex projects. This both reduces risk and promotes communication.
- Consider Strategic Environmental Assessments for big projects as they help to structure the project and identify critical steps.
- The public service is not private enterprise. Organizational culture, norms, directives and regulations have an impact on your capacity to deliver.
- Document as much as possible all stages of the project from start to finish. Put special emphasis on images.
- Efficient communications are critical, especially in complex projects.
- The scientific foundation of the restoration activities was a key factor in the success of the program. The program began by describing the habitats and structures in order to build the information base needed for development of restoration activities.
- Restoration can be expensive but most of all, it takes time. Depending on the complexity of the project, practitioners have to take into account delays resulting from adverse weather, obtaining necessary permits, equipment, and contracts.
Currently, the park is developing and implementing a program to monitor the restored ecosystems in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The park aims to continue restoration of other lakes and brook trout populations, as well as develop new opportunities for visitors to discover and experience nature during the next five years (2010-2014).
For more information
These case studies are intended to provide general information about ecological restoration projects. For more detailed or technical information, please consult the following sources or the contacts provided below.
- La Mauricie National Park: The Challenge of Restoring Aquatic Habitats
- La Mauricie National Park: The Speckled Trout Gets a Boost!
- Young People from the Region Take Part in La Mauricie National Park Lake Restoration Project
- Research and monitoring in La Maurcie national park
For more detailed or technical information about this restoration project, please contact:
Albert van Dijk
La Mauricie National Park of Canada
702-5th Street, PO Box 160, Station Bureau-chef
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Task group on the introduction and transfer of aquatic species (Quebec)
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- Ministère des Ressources Naturelles et de la Faune (Quebec)
- Université Laval (dendrochronology, fish genetics)
- Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (freshwater ecology)
If you wish to comment on this case study, please contact Parks Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org