‘Ambitious’ conservation targets demand agreement between B.C., Ottawa

‘Ambitious’ conservation targets demand agreement between B.C., Ottawa

Located southeast of Revelstoke, the new Incomappleux Conservancy is home to woodland that supports rare and endangered species, as well as ancient cedar and hemlock trees.Paul Zizka/Handout

The British Columbia government has just created what it calls one of the most significant new protected areas in a decade. To meet its ambitious environmental goals, it needs to create many more protected areas like the Incomappleux valley in the coming years: the equivalent of 175 more over the next seven years.

Canada also needs BC to succeed if it is to fulfill its own promises made at last year’s COP15 biodiversity conference. Despite the strong political alignment between the two governments, a nature deal that would speed up conservation has proved elusive.

The federal government has committed itself to achieving “30 times 30” by 2030, the acronym for 30 percent protected areas. She has also pledged not to pad the numbers by protecting barren landscapes and has worked towards identifying key areas of biodiversity that are at risk.

Beginning with Canada’s first national park in 1885, the country has managed to reserve nearly 15 percent of its land and waterways. With today’s development pressures, finding new, biologically important green spaces doesn’t get any easier, as the struggle for Ontario’s Greenbelt makes clear.

British Columbia, with one-tenth the land area of ​​the country and an outsized share of Canada’s biodiversity, has protected more of its land than any other province or territory.

But it still needs to add another 10 million hectares of protected areas to meet its own 30 by 30 target.

“It’s an ambitious goal,” said Nathan Cullen, BC’s Secretary of Water, Land and Resource Management, in an interview. “Our biodiversity is so rich and things that we try to protect, like the Incomappleux valley, are so rare.”

The new Incomappleux Conservancy encompasses more than 58,000 hectares of rare intact interior rainforest at BCPaul Zizka/Handout

In a province where land-use decisions have long been mired in resource development disputes and the failure of treaties with indigenous peoples, creating new protected areas takes time—often years. But some First Nations have already set the conservation table and are awaiting ratification by BC and Canada.

Northwest BC’s Taku River Tlingit has declared its intention to protect more than a million hectares of the largest intact watershed on North America’s Pacific Coast.

Their neighbors to the east, the Kaska Dena, have mapped a protected area called Dene Kʼéh Kusān. And the Kanaka Bar Indian Band of interior BC has mapped the portion of their traditional territories they want to protect from development, including one of the province’s rarest and most endangered native forests.

All three of these communities have declared an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (ICPA) that Canada and BC see as key to achieving their goals. However, the mechanism for implementation is still being developed.

Mr. Cullen said it is a model that is attracting international interest as a modern, decolonized alternative to creating new parkland for conservation.

“I think the ICPA model is much more durable,” Mr. Cullen said. “It’s a very different way of doing things. But in 2023, it’s the only way to do things.”

The new Incomappleux Conservancy reflects this move away from setting new park boundaries. The deal was brokered by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, with corporate, private and federal funding and Aboriginal consent. The Sn̓ʕaýckstx (Sinixt) Confederacy welcomed the valley’s protection, saying it would allow its people to continue their ancient role of projecting the land and habitat.

Protected areas of Incomappleux.Handout

Located southeast of Revelstoke, the sanctuary covers more than 58,000 hectares of rare intact inland rainforest — an ecosystem so endangered it was thought to be on the verge of collapse. It features ancient cedar and hemlock trees estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. The forest supports rare and endangered species and provides habitat for grizzly and black bears.

The province commended its corporate partners for making the Incomappleux project profitable: Timber producer Interfor Corp. received $4 million in exchange for the release of 75,000 hectares of his forest holdings.

Charlotte Dawe, a conservation activist with the Wilderness Committee, said BC may have been lucky in getting Interfor approved, but harder decisions lie ahead.

“To get to 30 times 30, we obviously need so many more protected areas that are exactly like that,” she said in an interview. “It could set a precedent to only protect areas where logging companies are willing to play ball and get paid to go away. That’s why we’re concerned, because the reality is that in most places that we need to protect, that’s just not going to happen.”

Mr. Cullen said the cost of establishing the Incomappleux Conservancy is a reminder that protecting valuable land is expensive, and he remains hopeful that Canada and BC will soon reach a nature treaty like the one signed between the federal government and the Yukon December.

“Negotiating with the federal government on their 30 by 30 ambition is an essential part of that, because that often doesn’t come cheap.”

BC and Canada were expected to announce a nature deal during the global conference on biodiversity, COP15, held in Montreal in December. But the province has not yet completed its consultations with First Nations leaders. Mr Cullen said he was confident an agreement could be signed once this consultation was completed, as the two governments have a shared interest in helping each other reach 30 by 30.

“We need each other,” he said.

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