Cultural-Dancing.-Photo-by-Cael-Cook-courtesy-of-Spirit-Bear-Lodge-1120x700.jpg

B.C. Coastal First Nations Conservation Economy Booming: New Report  

The tiny community of Klemtu has been transformed over the last decade as funding from Great Bear Rainforest agreements allowed members of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation to revamp their tourism strategy and come up with new business opportunities while protecting their traditional territory.

The Spirit Bear Lodge was expanded from six to 24 beds, the single wildlife viewing vessel was replaced with a new fleet of boats and business tripled.

Tweet: Tourists from all over now travel to Klemtu to watch grizzlies, wolves, whales & the rare white spirit bear http://bit.ly/2cReSeM #bcpoliTourists from all over the world now travel to Klemtu to watch grizzly bears, wolves, whales and — for the lucky ones — the rare white spirit (Kermode) bear.

“It has been huge for the community,” said Chief Councillor Douglas Neasloss.

About 50 people from the village of 320 are now employed in some way in tourism operations and have been trained for jobs ranging from chefs to tour operators.

Previously most jobs in the area were in forestry or fishing.

“Every family is involved in the lodge in some shape of form. There’s a lot of pride in the business,” Neasloss said.

Klemtu is the poster child for how investment in a conservation-based economy is bringing jobs and sustainable businesses to First Nations communities in the Great Bear Rainforest.

But the story is repeated throughout the area says a report released Wednesday by Coast Funds, the conservation financing organization created in 2007 as part of the Great Bear Rainforest agreements.

Coast Funds, a partnership of private foundations and government, was initially established with $118-million and has now approved grants of more than $62-million for 271 conservation and sustainable development projects in 27 communities in the region.

The spinoff is that First Nations have attracted more than $200-million in new investment, which is helping develop and diversify the coastal economy, and the projects have created 670 permanent new jobs in areas such as science, research, ecotourism and aquaculture, says the report.

The spread of investment allows coastal First Nations to avoid an over-reliance on single industries. Source: Coast Funds.

About 500 of those jobs are held by First Nations community members, amounting to nine per cent of the working age population of the 26 First Nations communities in the area.

Projects are as varied as the Haida’s Taan Forest operations, businesses exporting sustainably harvested seafood, Heiltsuk’s stewardship department and creation of the Coastal Guardian Watchman network to monitor and protect coastal ecosystems over 1.7-million hectares.

First Nations have also finalized 18 protected area management plans and have launched a story telling website and an interactive map illustrating ecologically and culturally significant protected areas.

“Over the past eight years we’ve seen an incredible diversity of new stewardship programs and sustainable businesses prosper across the coast,” said Brodie Guy, Coast Funds executive director.

“With over $100-million in funds under management, Coast Funds looks forward to the many exciting new initiatives that First Nations continue to spearhead throughout the Great Bear Rainforest,” he said.

Coastal First Nations president Marilyn Slett said that, for the coastal economy to continue to grow, the key is recognizing the link between economic and ecological sustainability.

“It is not possible to achieve one without the other,” she said.

An economy based on respect is possible, as was proved by First Nations ancestors, said Peter Lantin, Council of the Haida Nation president.

“They had ways of thinking and knowledge that put the needs of other creatures of the earth ahead of their own,” he said.

“We would like to replicate that understanding today and design an economy that considers others fully and equally and, in that way, we can benefit too.”

However, challenges remain, said Neasloss, pointing to the provincial government’s support for the grizzly bear trophy hunt — something the community has vowed to stop. Nine First Nations in the Great Bear have banned bear hunting in their traditional territories, but that ban is not recognized by the province.

Others communities, such as Hartley Bay, continue to worry about possible approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, bringing a procession of bitumen-carrying tankers to the wild West Coast water and, while conservation agreements protect 85 per cent of rainforest from commercial logging, skirmishes over logging erupt intermittently.

However, overall, there is now infinitely more protection than before the agreements were ratified, Neasloss said.

“And we are looking at protecting sensitive wildlife habitat and cultural areas,” he said.

The Great Bear Rainforest, which covers 6.4-million hectares, stretching from northern Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle, will get an additional boost later this month with a royal visit from William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who will endorse the region as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, which aims to conserve forests.

Image: Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation cultural dance. Photo by Cael Cook via Coast Funds and Spirit Bear Lodge.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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