Fin in the News: It’s time to heal and protect the Fraser Watershed

Fin Donnelly and Kevin Scott, Vancouver Sun, July 4, 2019

Fin Donnelly and Kevin Scott: It’s time to heal and protect the Fraser Watershed

Opinion: As a first step, government, indigenous, private sector and charitable organization leaders will attend a workshop in Vancouver this week to discuss how to proceed.

The 12th annual Fraser River Cleanup volunteers clean up trash on the banks of the Fraser River near Chilliwack in March. Last year they hauled away more than 20 tonnes of garbage, including mattresses, bullet casings and construction waste. (Francis Georgian/PNG FILES)FRANCIS GEORGIAN / PNG

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No British Columbian who follows the news can doubt that the Fraser Watershed is in trouble. The mountain pine beetle’s devastation of massive swathes of forest, wildfires of unprecedented reach and ferocity, salmon runs in crisis, destruction of wildlife habitat and the decline of the natural resource economy have contributed to the stark reality that we face an ecological and economic crisis.

Here’s why it matters: At just under 1,400 kilometres, the Fraser is the longest remaining free-flowing river on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, from Alaska to Chile. The watershed’s 225,000 square kilometres represent more than a quarter of B.C.’s area. It’s the most productive salmon-producing watershed on the planet, one of North America’s most biologically diverse regions, and the unceded traditional territory to close to 100 First Nations governments.

It’s also the social, economic and environmental heartland of B.C. and home to nearly three million people — two-thirds of our population — who depend on the economic activity the watershed supports.

But this is seriously threatened due to the rapid impact of climate change and years of neglect. It’s time to act. We believe none of these threats should be seen in isolation and that they need to be addressed through a collaborative, holistic, ecosystem-based approach.

As a first step, government, indigenous, private sector and charitable organization leaders will attend a workshop in Vancouver this week to discuss how to proceed.

This will be part of the Fraser Watershed Initiative, an ambitious plan to raise half a billion dollars for a 10-year program that will represent one of the biggest watershed restoration efforts in the world.

The initiative is positioned to jumpstart the watershed’s transition to a new, more culturally sensitive, economically prosperous and ecologically resilient future. As examples of what can be done, we have assembled a list of shovel-ready projects that could be carried out.

Projects include terrestrial and freshwater restoration, conservation of important cultural and recreational areas and preservation of critical habitat. This will provide training and critical employment for First Nations communities, and thousands of skills workers as well as diversifying the economic base of the watershed.

While the contributions of all stakeholders are critical to success, indigenous communities have a unique role in the process. They were guardians of the watershed and maintained the ecosystem’s health for millennia until they were moved and, in many cases, relocated from their territories and their traditional role over the past 150 years. First Nations are winning acknowledgement of aboriginal title to their traditional territories and advancing their claims to the watershed through negotiation and litigation.

Restoration of land and waterways under the Fraser Watershed Initiative program and the resolution of land claims is necessary for reconciliation with indigenous people. It will further underpin commitments by the federal and provincial governments to pursue indigenous lead land use planning as a vehicle to advance these rights and title negotiations.

Overall, work financed by the fund will provide a platform to showcase ecological and economic transformation that can be replicated elsewhere in Canada and internationally. It’s an ecosystem approach that focuses on salmon and species at risk, climate adaptation and sustainable resource management while ensuring the consent of First Nations.

The Fraser Watershed Initiative is an unprecedented opportunity for Canada to demonstrate global leadership in biodiversity protection, climate change adoption, economic development and real jobs on the ground.

Fin Donnelly and Kevin Scott are co-founders of the Fraser Watershed Initiative. Donnelly is the MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam and chair of the Rivershed Society of B.C.