Province, First Nations move towards Ecosystem-based management

Story by Frank Larue

Coastal BC is one step closer towards the establishment of an ecosystem-based management (EBM) system for forest resources with the signing of a ministerial order to legally establish the South Central Coast Legal Land-Use Objectives.

“Ecosystem-based management is an innovative and groundbreaking approach to sustainable stewardship of natural resources that is world-class,” said Pat Bell, minister of Agriculture and Lands. “It will ensure the vital balance between healthy ecosystems and vibrant communities.”

The EBM objectives are one of a number of commitments made by the province to support a sustainable economy while protecting a healthy ecosystem in the central and north coast areas of the province.

“We are excited to be working with the province to implement EBM in the southern portion of the Central Coast land-use plan,” said Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolis Council.

“Implementing EBM in our territories will help manage and preserve our cultural values while maintaining the balance between the ecological and economic values that is necessary for healthy communities.”

Smith said the partnership is a direct result of the new relationship between the BC government and First Nations.
“This is something unheard of in our territories,” said Smith, who noted that their territories have been subject to industrial logging for over 100 years that have left very few of the so-called ‘monumental’ cedar used in totem poles and traditional canoes.

“As we see the new relationship develop, you’re starting to see the ability for us to work at different technical levels that we never even comprehended in the past,” Smith explained at the news conference in Victoria.

The preservation of monumental cedars is a key objective of the new ecosystem management plan. The seven aboriginal groups represented by the Nanwakolis Council participated in the development of the plan, as was environmental groups such as Greenpeace, ForestEthics, and the BC chapter of the Sierra Club.

The order signed by Minister Bell specifies logging limits on a large area of BC’s coast covering a portion of the south central coast extending from near Campbell River north to the Bella Coola.

The South Central Coast Legal Land-Use Objectives plan stems from the historic Coastal Land-Use decision encompassing the north and Central Coast plan areas that was announced in February 2006. A similar plan is being developed for the remainder of the central and north coast and is expected to be announced in the fall of 2007.

Vast areas of temperate coastal rain forest are protected, including the largest intact temperate rain forest left on earth, which is home to thousands of species of plants, birds and mammals. The combined areas encompassed by the decision are approximately 6.4 million hectares, or more than twice the size of Vancouver Island.

Under the new management system, forest companies or licensees will be required to adhere to 15 objectives in their development plans, including the protection of giant cedars – those trees that are more than 100 centimetres in diameter that range from 160 to 230 years old.

“We’re able to identify the areas where monumental cedar traditionally grows and write those objectives that protect those values to ensure that we have room for economic growth, but we can go back to the past and use that monumental cedar,” explained Smith. “So its very important for us not only where monumental cedar exist now, but where they will be in the future for our future generations.”

Other objective include measures to protect important fisheries watersheds and habitat for species-at-risk such as mountain goats, grizzly bears and the marbled murrelets.

Maps for identifying species-at-risk habitat are still being drawn up and is expected to be completed by September 30th.

Environmental groups gave the minister a ‘countdown’ clock to remind the government of its commitment to fully implement the ecosystem-based management scheme over the entire coast by 2009.

“Today is a significant step forward in that process,” said Bell, who noted the clock now reads 608 days to go.

Similarly, land use decisions for the north-central Bulkley Valley area of the province will ensure the long-term sustainable resource management and critical habitat protection for the area under the “Morice” plan, announced on July 18th.

The agreement is the result of five years of negotiation between First Nations, industry and local governments.

First Nations involved included the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, the Lake Babine Nation, Nedo’ats Hereditary Chiefs and the Yekoohe First Nation.

The agreement protects 123,000 hectares of land, critical fish and wildlife habitat, , certainty principles around mining activities and water quality monitoring.

Debbie Pierre of the Office of the Wet’sewet’en said the Morice plan does not address all of the interests of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary cchiefs, who have sought an accommodation with the province since 1994, when they initiated the Delgamuukw aboriginal title court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, establishing the concept of aboriginal title in Canadian jurisprudence.

“However, this is a step in the right direction in working together,” said Pierre. “Through collaborative management, we believe that we can effectively protect critical ecosystems that maintain the quality of life of the Wet’suwet’en.”