Quebec to protect 50% of its northern territory, premier reveals; 20% to be declared protected by 2020, almost double original commitment, while 30% of land will be closed to mining, hydroelectric projects

MONTREAL, Quebec , February 6, 2012 () – Calling it perhaps the largest environmental conservation project on the planet, Quebec Premier Jean Charest unveiled how the government plans to safeguard 50% of the province's northern territory - a region the size of France - from indu strial development Sunday.

Chief among the measures was the announcement that 20% of the region will be declared protected areas by 2020, nearly twice the amount of land Quebec first pledged would be granted full protection.

Another 30% of the land will be closed to mining and hydroelectric projects, although other development projects deemed to have less impact on the ecology, like ecotourism, for instance, will be permitted. The nature of those development projects has yet to be defined.

"This is one of the last virgin territories on the planet," Mr. Charest said, accompanied by Pierre Arcand, Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. "On the environmental plan, in terms of the protection of territory, it is the biggest project that exists right now."

The announcement was met with cautious approval by conservation groups, some of whom have characterized the government's Plan Nord vision to invest $80-billion in energy development, forestry, mining and tourism over 25 years as a marketing plan to sell off natural resources to foreign countries.

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