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A new model for old forest protection

August 26th, 2022

Kwoiek Lake, Kanaka Bar Indian Band territory

In the unprecedented heat dome of 2021, British Columbia and much of the Pacific Northwest was ravaged by extreme heat, wildfires, and crop failures. Rapid snowmelt subsequently lead to flooding.  The highest temperature ever recorded in Canada – a searing 49.6°C (121.3 °F) – was measured in Lytton, BC during the heat wave. The town burned to the ground in a wildfire the day after that record was set.

Lytton is 90km east of where I live. It is in Kanaka Bar Indian Band territory. The Kanaka Bar, part of the Nlaka’pamux First Nation, have resided in this area for 7,000 years. This nation has dealt with centuries of exploitation, the trauma of residential schools, and ongoing extraction of the natural resources on their land. Now they are dealing with some of the worst immediate impacts of climate change in the form of the heat, wildfires, droughts and floods like those of 2021.

In response, the band has decided to pursue an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in their territory. You can read more about this approach to indigenous-led conservation in the We Rise Together report prepared by the Indigenous Circle of Experts. This sets up a framework within which the band can protect the unique remaining old-growth stands in their territory while improving the climate resilience of their land.

From the press release:

A proposed Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in the Kanaka Bar Band’s Territory includes some of the rarest and most endangered old-growth forests in BC. The Kanaka Bar Band, a Nlaka’pamux First Nation in the Fraser Canyon 14km south of Lytton, about a 3-hour drive from Vancouver, today publicly announced the vision to establish the 350km2 T'eqt'aqtn IPCA in their Traditional Territory. The proposed IPCA encompasses the Kwoiek and Four Barrel watersheds and adjacent parts of the Fraser Canyon, which will include roughly 125km2 of old-growth forests.

Images from the Kanaka Bar Band press release

The proposal includes a large area of intact old-growth forest, as well as an initiative to restore and reforest areas previously logged by Teal-Jones. From Chief Patrick Michell:

“What you do to the land (or allow others to do), you do to yourself,” states Chief Patrick Michell. “Kanaka Bar has been subjected to over a century and a half of colonization and greed, and we now face the global existential threat of climate change—but the damage can be reversed. Through this IPCA, we will rehabilitate Kanaka's Territory and heal not only our lands but our people.”

Supporting this kind of indigenous-led progress on conservation and climate resilience is exactly why we have been supporting the Nature Based Solutions Foundation, which has helped the Kanaka Bar Band advance their proposal. I’ve written previously about this: Investing in our planet.

Across BC more communities are rejecting the status quo of extractive industries and embracing a model that balances economic activity with conservation, land stewardship, and restoration.

“Returning the Territory to Kanaka Bar will advance the entire Fraser Canyon’s climate resiliency,” said Sean O’Rourke, Lands Manager. “Functional, healthy ecosystems are our best defense against natural disasters. After more than a century of profit-driven management, it is time for a different set of values to guide land use. The wildfires and landslides of 2021 make this abundantly clear.”

I am eager to see this model adopted and expanded to enable further old-growth protections and indigenous conservation initiatives across the province.

Images from the Kanaka Bar Band press release