The Gault Estate Board approved the Holland Report on management zones in 1968, adopting a sectorial approach that sought to balance the goals of human use and preservation.
The Preservation Sector provides a secure refuge for reclusive animals and serves as a reservoir of biotic diversity from which the more heavily visited parts of the Reserve can be recolonized. Restrictions on access to the Preservation Sector apply to academic research and teaching as well as to the general public. Only limited research activity can be undertaken in this sector, mostly for long-term monitoring plots or field experiments requiring minimal chance of human interference.
The Public Sector has two important vocations. First, its system of trails provides a venue for education and enjoyment of the mountain by the members of the University community and also the general public. This is the sector in which the activities and programs of the Mont St. Hilaire Nature Centre serve the needs and interest of local communities. Second, the areas away from the trails in the Public Sector are the main venue for research activities at the Reserve. It is in this sector that experimental studies not allowed in the Preservation Sector can be carried out.
The support facilities for activities on the Reserve are located within the Service Sector, which is associated with a small road and power line network originating at the entrance gate. These facilities include the Nature Center Pavilion, the Manager's Residence, various workshops and storage buildings, the Chalets, the Maison Gault and the Research Centre.
Why don't we "clean up" the forest at Mont St. Hilaire?
Visitors sometimes wonder why the forest at Mont St. Hilaire has so much debris on the forest floor and so many dead or dying trees. Most people are used to seeing forests managed for the production of timber or maple sap, and these are usually maintained in much more tidy condition. People in Quebec speak of "nettoyer la forêt" an expression that means to pick up fallen branches and clean up the forest understory. Keeping a forest in good order is a deep-seated cultural norm in Quebec and in many of the European countries where forests have been intensively managed since medieval times. The important thing to realize about the forest in the Gault Nature Reserve is that is unmanaged on purpose!
We purposely let nature take her course, as she must have done to the extensive forests that clothed our region before the Europeans arrived a few centuries ago. It is obvious that the trees in a forest do not require human intervention — they did just fine for many millennia before any foresters arrived in Quebec. In all our region there are very, very few remnants of such primeval forests that have not been managed by people for one reason or another. These remnant "old-growth" forests provide invaluable scientific benchmarks against which the far more frequent, "second-growth" forests can be compared. Some plants and animals are found only in old-growth forests, and we now know that it may take centuries for the flora and fauna of harvested forests to return to old-growth conditions even if their exploitation or management stops. So what we have in the Gault Nature Reserve at Mont St. Hilaire is a precious remnant of forests at the very northern limit of the deciduous forests that stretch south to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Mississippi River. It is this old-growth character that contributes to the special value of the reserve for teaching and research, and also that sets it apart from the more disturbed forests on the other Monteregian Hills and in the surrounding St. Lawrence River Valley.
Some recommended readings:
Bonnicksen, Thomas M. 2000. America's Ancient Forests. From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery. NY: Wiley.
Peterken, George F. 1996. Natural Woodland. Ecology and conservation in northern temperate regions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.