For our last day in Baie Comeau, we visited the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve Center, the Station Uapishka headquarter located 336 km and about 5h drive from here.
Once arrived, Jean Philippe L. Messier, founder and director of the station welcomed the ArcTrain crew to share some facts on the history and of the reserve.
“Context is all” writes Margaret Atwood in her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”; it is in fact, impossible to understand the reality of the Uapishka Biosphere Reserve without knowing the socio-economical context of the region in which the station was created.
The concept of a biosphere reserve in Manicouagan Uapishka has to work together with the main economic players of the region. The natural resources of the area triggered an important industrial development centered on the hydroelectric production (thanks to the Manic-5 dam complex) the aluminum extraction and export (ALCOA), but also the forestry with the logging and numerous paper mills contributes to the expansion of the local economy. In addition, Baie Comeau is a harbor city with cargo-ship passing every day giving the opportunity to easily deliver the regional production.
Beyond the industrial reality, the vast majority of the reserve is covered by the boreal forest, home of the Canadian reindeer, known as caribou. The species has been listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature), raising concerns especially in the Innu communities of the region, as they consider this animal sacred.
The Innu communities represent an important piece in the development of the area, and their influence is destined to grow with the increase in the number registered in the young population.
In such a complex picture the UNESCO Bioreserve comes at play offering a network for sustainability and developing tools for the area that creates a platform that involves all the parties present in the area to develop common guidelines and goals for an embetterment and preservation of the region.
The prestigious status of UNESCO Bioreserve was hard to get and Jean Philippe told us about the long process and the different steps started in 2001 with the initial discussion of the Committee that led to the effective designation of Manicouagan Uapishka in 2007.
The center offers also a skill development platform for young people coming from difficult backgrounds hiring them for a year as interns at the station.
We heard a lot about Uapishka Station and we now are looking forward to finally get there tomorrow!
By Mattia Greco and Remi Ienny