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The wild leek in danger

4 years old wild leek plants
Photo: Biodôme de Montréal
Allium tricoccum

Since the 1970s, wild leek has suffered a marked decline, mainly because of over-harvesting driven by commercial sales. Industrial and urban development, contributing to the loss and degradation of habitats, is also responsible for this decline.

Cause for concern

Studies by the Montréal Biodôme between 1994 and 1996 located and inventoried over 150 wild leek populations across Québec. They brought to light a most worrisome situation: in Québec, one out of four wild leek populations has disappeared or is endangered, i.e. it has fewer than 1,000 plants. This number is considered the minimum for a viable colony, a threshold set on the basis of observations in the field. A population below this level has a probability of extinction of greater than 5% in 100 years due to natural fluctuations. Of the 150 populations inventoried, 15 were deemed extinct (extinction rate = 10%).

It was also noted that the vast majority of wild leek plants identified were concentrated in a few sites: 75% of the plants grow in 13 large populations with one million or more individuals. Only two of these colonies are in protected territory. And it is in the very heart of the species' distribution area that the situation appears most precarious, i.e. in the Montréal-Laval region, and in the lower Laurentians, Montérégie and Lanaudière.

A call to arms!

This overall portrait made it possible to establish some priorities.

Three specific objectives were identified to help conserve and restore the species:

  1. ensure that the large colonies (key sites) in each region are conserved;
  2. promote an increase in numbers in reduced populations;
  3. intervene in the most seriously affected regions.

The SEM'AIL program is part of this third objective. Only an extensive seeding program, carried out with people directly affected by the re-colonization of the species in their regions, will be sufficient to offset the decline observed in recent years.

It's the Law!

Since March 16, 1995, selling wild leek and any activity potentially harmful to the species have been prohibited by a regulation adopted under the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species (Government of Québec, 1998). An annual harvest of 50 bulbs or plants is allowed, for personal consumption only. Wildlife conservation officers are authorized to enforce the regulation; every year, a number of offenders are arrested and are subject to fines of at least $500. This amount doubles for repeat offences. 

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