Canadian first nation wins forest protection

Issue 

Canadian first nation wins forest protection

By Cam Walker

The Haisla Nation of central western British Columbia have won a major victory in having a vast area of their traditional homeland permanently protected.

The Haisla are the traditional landowners of the Kitlope watershed, a huge river system of over 400,000 hectares which contains the world's largest remaining intact coastal cool-temperate rainforest.

The ecosystem ranges from coastal marshes through old growth spruce and cedar forests and merges into alpine meadows at the higher altitudes. It is an important habitat for bears, mountain goats, moose and wolves. It is also the last part of traditional Haisla territory to remain intact and acts as a source of cultural and spiritual inspiration for them.

The area has been under threat from a number of sources, especially corporate logging interests. The Haisla won a victory when West Fraser Timber relinquished its logging rights to 320,000 hectares of the Kitlope without seeking compensation.

The Haisla, seeking to protect their land, worked with an environmental organisation called Ecotrust, a non-profit organisation dedicated to conservation-based development in North America's coastal rainforests. Working in an alliance, they focused scientific attention on the Kitlope, developed a planning framework for wilderness protection and established the Nanakila Institute, which aims to develop an ethic of stewardship for the land.

In August 1994, the Haisla Nation and the premier of British Columbia announced permanent protection of the Kitlope valley, which constitutes three quarters of the Greater Kitlope ecosystem. The area will be jointly managed by the government and the Haisla.

The Nanakila Institute is developing programs for scientific research and nature- and cultural-based tourism, and will monitor the impact of these activities. It is expected that this will lead to employment opportunities for Haisla people. By having control over what happens on their land, the Haisla have a greater ability to maintain their traditional identity and culture while improving economic options for their community and protecting the environment.
[Based on information from Erin Kellogg (Ecotrust) and Rainforest Action Network.]

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