Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) projects in the Central Coast

High school students learn traditional skills on a SEAS Outdoors Club camping trip to Goose Island in Heiltsuk territory. Photo credit: Johanna Gordon-Walker.

High school students learn traditional skills on a SEAS Outdoors Club camping trip to Goose Island in Heiltsuk territory. Photo credit: Johanna Gordon-Walker.

Raised on a gillnetter in a fisher family, Howard Humchitt spent most of his childhood on the water learning how to harvest Heiltsuk Nation marine resources. “It’s a way of life for us,” he explains. “For many parents who own boats, their kids get their sea legs early. They get a feel for the ocean under their feet before they’re even walking.”

For families who don’t own boats or lack the resources to get out on the water, Howard says the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) initiative fills a gap. As a SEAS Outdoors Club mentor in Heiltsuk territory, he says the program helps prepare First Nations youth to become the next generation of stewards in their communities.

“The SEAS outdoor program has given me a huge opportunity to pass on the knowledge that I’ve been taught by my father, uncles and brothers to others,” he says. “We help kids to get out and be a part of the land and a part of the ocean.”

First started in 2009, SEAS is active in the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv First Nations communities of the Central Coast of British Columbia. Classroom and outdoor activities are designed to cultivate a deeper understanding of traditional cultural beliefs and marine values.

“It keeps our kids in touch with who we are as a people,” Howard affirms. “We’ve always been a part of the ocean. It’s a mainstay of our diet.”

In line with the goals of the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP), the SEAS Outdoors Club helps foster ocean stewardship. High school students learn practical skills in fishing, wilderness first aid and boat safety. They visit ancient clam middens and learn how important ocean resources have been to their community for thousands of years.

“Stewardship is something that is learned by being out on the land and the water,” says SEAS instructor Johanna Gordon-Walker. “Students are picking up the skills needed to become young leaders and the confidence to share their skills. They know how to make a fire and cook over it and they learn the territory well enough to know which way to go in a boat.”

The Central Coast Marine Plan includes objectives and strategies aimed at protecting and sustaining the region’s rich traditional and cultural resources by engaging young people in traditional use activities. SEAS brings elders into the classroom to demonstrate how to use plants as medicine and to teach the cultural protocols for sharing harvests with the community. Grade 4 students study herring science on the water. They learn how to set tree branches for herring roe and to preserve the eggs.

“The thing that really sticks with you most is the wonder and awe factor,” says Johanna. “It’s a huge adventure for the younger children to go out on a boat for the day. The more they learn, the more questions they have.”

Funding for MaPP supports SEAS program coordination, cultivating the next generation of stewards to carry out marine plan implementation. On this year’s first winter camping trip, students job-shadowed commercial crab and prawn fishers.

At the end of the SEAS program, some graduates aspire to work with the coastal guardian watchmen or the Coast Guard. For others, learning to harvest ocean resources for their families makes them feel appreciated and gives them a productive role in their communities.

The experience is rewarding for Howard, too.

“When the students see something for the first time, I take joy in seeing their eyes light up,” Howard recounts. “When somebody sees a wolf for the first time, I realise it’s not just another wolf. It’s the first wolf this person is seeing. Every one of these opportunities make me appreciate what we have and allows me to see something for the first time– again.”

Coastal Guardian Watchman training and ecosystem-based management indicator development

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(Clockwise from top) Vernon Brown, Curtis Rollie, Anna Gerrard, and Chantal Pronteau review MaPP deliverables, discussing objectives and required actions and outcomes. Photo credit: Gord McGee.

First Nations people have long understood that the use of natural resources needs to be carefully managed in order to remain sustainable. They recognize that species, ecosystems and humans cannot be considered in isolation – healthy environments and healthy communities go hand-in-hand. This has been a guiding principle in their relationship with nature for thousands of years. Today, the Coastal First Nations – Great Bear Initiative Coastal Stewardship Network is supporting First Nations in using monitoring and standardized data collection to demonstrate scientifically why this approach, known as ecosystem-based management (EBM), is so important to preserving the lands and waters for future generations.

Chantal Pronteau and Curtis Rollie are guardian watchmen in the Central Coast’s Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Nation. This is the second year they have been monitoring and protecting their territory’s natural resources. Both live in Klemtu but are stationed in remote Mussel Inlet for three months of the year and spend an additional three months monitoring the rest of their Nation’s vast area.

With support from the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP), Rollie and Pronteau took the first level of the Coastal First Nations Stewardship Technicians Training Program and are now participating in Level 2. The training includes 14 courses that develop a variety of skills including environmental compliance and monitoring.

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Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Nation Guardian Watchman Curtis Rollie (left) and Marine Plan implementation coordinator Anna Gerrard go over the upcoming guardian watchman schedule and responsibilities. Photo credit: Gord McGee.

“The training made a huge difference to how we do our work,” says Pronteau. “It made me more comfortable in my role as a watchman. This is work that can’t be done from a desk; we are the stewards of this land.”

“I’ve learned what to look for when patrolling, how to approach people so they feel welcome, and how to enforce First Nations laws,” says Rollie. “The small motors course has been valuable as we rely on our boats every day to accomplish our tasks.”

EBM monitoring is a priority for near-term implementation of the MaPP Central Coast Marine Plan, and Rollie and Pronteau collect data to support a variety of indicators including key species as well as noting human pressures on the ecosystem. They enter their findings on tablets and upload the information to the Coastal First Nations Regional Monitoring System (RMS).

“We’ll enter how many crab traps we see and where they are, how many boats we see and what they’re doing,” says Rollie. “We’ll record locations of logging and fishing tenures to monitor whether they’re operating in the right zone. We’ve done a rockfish survey where we count all the fish we catch in a 15-minute span and document all of them. We record water temperature, salinity and pH levels. We have a long list of things to check and all these indicators show us how everything is interconnected.”

Lara Hoshizaki administers the database that guardian watchmen such as Pronteau and Rollie upload information to. As the regional monitoring system coordinator, she works closely with the six Coastal First Nations that use the RMS and provides monthly reports.

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Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Nation Guardian Watchmen Curtis Rollie (left) and Chantal Pronteau (right) work with the Coastal Stewardship Network’s training coordinator Elodie Button (centre) to measure ocean pH in their Nation’s territory. Photo credit: Curtis Rollie.

“A standardized system is able to provide a more accurate regional picture,” says Hoshizaki. “The data collected support Nations in studying and communicating what’s happening in their territories in a quantifiable way and also support ongoing scientific research, for example, the trap sighting data collected by the RMS is shared with the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance for use alongside their ongoing Dungeness Crab research. EBM monitoring offers a holistic picture by looking at a broad suite of indicators related to ecological, economic, social and cultural well-being, and can provide solutions from several perspectives.”

An EBM framework guides the implementation of many of the MaPP strategies and the work the guardian watchmen perform is important to its success. Through training, MaPP is building capacity to collect data related to EBM indicators. This improves monitoring and enforcement and measures long-term changes in ecological and human well-being.

The Hakai Program brings together big minds to answer big questions

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West shore of Calvert Island

We know a lot about forests and the important role they play in our environment and our economy. But what do we know about underwater forests – the nutrient-rich kelp forests found along the North Pacific Coast?

Applied marine ecologist Anne Salomon, who studies kelp forests, calls them one of the most productive ecosystems on our planet. They provide habitat for rockfish, abalone, sea urchins and many more marine species. Kelp forests are also a source of food that fuels marine food webs and they help to calm the waters on wave-exposed outer shores, providing a safe haven or nursery for tiny larvae, fish and shellfish.

“They also sequester carbon dioxide, so they’re carbon sinks,” Salomon says. “That’s a pretty important service these days given that we have too much carbon in our atmosphere.”

Salomon is an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University in the School of Resource and Environmental Management and a member of the MaPP Central Coast Marine Plan Advisory Committee. She is also one of the principal investigators of the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management. Housed at SFU, it is a network of Canadian and international scientists that works with the Hakai Beach Institute on Calvert Island off the central coast of British Columbia.

Hakai and its funding body, the Tula Foundation, are the brainchildren of Eric Peterson and his wife, Christina Munck. A fourth generation British Columbian, Peterson is an early-stage entrepreneur who thinks long-term. He is a geneticist and molecular biologist who is used to examining things in detail. He is a former McGill University professor who worked in B.C.’s coastal resource industries in his student years. He is also a successful tech entrepreneur who sold his commercial interests to establish the Tula Foundation.

The Tula Foundation finances and runs the Hakai Program, a set of interlocking initiatives in ecological research and education that concentrate on coastal margins and the watersheds and estuaries that feed them. The Hakai Program focuses on long-term ecological research, which Peterson describes as, “Choose a region, study it long-term, study it year round, and study lots of factors and their interaction.”

Peterson’s commitment to long-term research is valued by scientists who often are funded for shorter time spans. “It’s a huge amount of foresight to provide long-term funding because you can only detect change with long-term monitoring … we need data that go through time,” Salomon says.

She adds that the type of data collection that Peterson helps to fund through the Hakai Beach Institute over time will assist scientists in assessing the effects of initiatives such as MaPP.

Recently, Salomon and a number of other scientists launched the Outer Shores Research Program. Funded by the Tula Foundation, the program works in collaboration with the Hakai Beach Institute and Central Coast First Nations, including the Heiltsuk and the Wuikinuxv. “The whole idea of the Outer Shores Research Program is to understand the major drivers of changes and their effects on near shore coastal ecosystems (including kelp forests and eel grass meadows) that people rely on – for sustenance, for cultural values, for economies,” Salomon explains.

Equally important to Salomon’s scientific research is the knowledge she and her colleagues gain from what she calls “deep time” or prehistory. “There is very clear evidence of prehistoric use and management for these resources. So I think we have a lot to learn from coastal First Nations.” For instance, Salomon’s lab work has recently shown that ancient First Nations clam gardens can almost double clam production compared to uncultivated non-walled clam beaches.  “Indigenous people in the past didn’t increase their footprint,” she says, “They made their footprint more productive.”

Michael Reid is the aquatics manager for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. For more than a decade he has looked for solutions to challenging marine issues on the Central Coast. “Eric Peterson and Christina Munck not only provide funding, they provide the opportunity to bring all of us together,” he says. “They have brought a lot of brilliant minds together in trying to answer some of the bigger questions. And you know, it’s worked really well.”

See video of underwater kelp forests.

 

See the rugged coast of Calvert Island from helicopter.

Hakai – The Rugged Coast from Grant Callegari on Vimeo.

 

Where the forest meets the sea – harvesting logs, protecting habitat

A typical small log dump found today. A protective debris curtain to the right of the float camp is designed to protect the beach habitat.

A typical small log dump found today. A protective debris curtain to the right of the float camp is designed to protect the beach habitat.

A two-year old artificial rock reef used to compensate for log dump impacts. Shellfish in foreground is endangered abalone.

A two-year old artificial rock reef used to compensate for log dump impacts. Shellfish in foreground is endangered abalone.

How do First Nations, the forest industry and the provincial government work together to manage logging in the Central Coast? And, just as importantly, how do they protect the environment while they’re doing it?

In response, Warren Warttig quotes a university professor: “Forestry isn’t rocket science – it’s much harder than that,” he notes. Warttig is the senior planning biologist with the forest company Interfor, and a member of the Central Coast Marine Plan Advisory Committee. The challenges surrounding forestry are particularly critical in the Central Coast Region, he says, where about 50 per cent of the land is either park or protected and an additional 35 per cent of the productive forest land-base is constrained by some form of protective legislation.

In the old days, when understanding of how to protect the environment was less acute, forest companies typically dumped their logs into well-developed estuaries. “We now recognize those areas as some of the worst places to put log dumps,” Warttig says.

Now there is a ‘no-net-loss-of-habitat’ policy in place, established by the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). When forest companies have an impact on habitat they are required to replace it with a compensation habitat. “We’d find an area and build a rock reef which, if done right, can produce some pretty nice habitat – particularly for abalone and rock fish,” Warttig says. Visual impact is a whole additional matter, addressed through forest legislation. Forest companies now have software allowing them to accurately model what an area will look like after logging.

Interfor already has a protocol agreement with the Wuikinuxv First Nation and is currently working on one with the Heiltsuk. Protocol agreements formalize the relationship between industry and First Nations and clarify information sharing, management best practices, and consultation requirements. They may also include employment and economic components. “It’s important to us that we have these agreements,” Warttig says. “We’re aware that we’re operating in the traditional territories of the First Nations and we want to be thought of as a good neighbour.”

From the Heiltsuk point of view, the forest industry has been pretty good in recent years, according to Heiltsuk stewardship director Kelly Brown. “They’ve responded well to having First Nations staff members on their team and we’re working our way to becoming more involved in activities in our territories.”

Six different forestry companies operate in the Heiltsuk territory and the First Nation hopes to make formal agreements with all of them. “We have a fairly vigorous checklist of requirements from industry and the province that we set out in the agreement itself,” Brown says.

“Industry has responded quite positively in moving their projected cut-block areas so they wouldn’t affect Heiltsuk or salmon,” Brown says.  “Everything is moving in the right direction and we expect to have agreements in principle very soon.”

The Heiltsuk are also applying for some buffers around old village sites and, in general, they hope to minimize the amount of lumber that’s being taken. “The review’s going on right now,” Brown says. “There are always pros and cons to taking timber,” he says. “We don’t want cutting for the sake of cutting.”

Heilsuk marine planner Julie Carpenter agrees. “We’ve been working with the province and the forest industry through the MaPP process to identify areas of interest for protection,” she says. “We’ve talked quite a bit about cumulative impact of different logging sites and we’re trying to work with the logging companies to limit those impacts.”

Spirit bears bring international tourists to remote B.C.

DNeasloss_IMG_7009_spiritbear_salmon_350x576pxDoug Neasloss was a kayak touring guide in the remote village of Klemtu, found on Swindle Island in B.C.’s Inside Passage (between Vancouver Island and southeast Alaska). Neasloss had just closed up shop for the 2003 season, when he got an unexpected visitor.

“Then, this one lady showed up at my doorstep,” he recalls. “I explained that our season had ended but she got quite upset because she was a freelance photographer who’d flown here from Toronto.”

Neasloss checked the weather and agreed to take her out the next morning. He used his expert guiding knowledge to help her find a spirit bear, “and she got some amazing photos which allowed her to make a ton of money.”

This experience helped turn Neasloss into a photographer himself (he’s completely self-taught) and also sowed the seeds for what is now The Spirit Bear Lodge, a thriving eco-tourism business run by the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais First Nation.

The operation brings in about 300 visitors each year, many from Europe and Australia and employs 40 local people – mainly youth.

The heart of the enterprise? Interest in the region’s estimated 200 highly prized spirit bears. This majestically coloured white animal – that used to be, wrongly, thought of as a rare albino – is a sacred animal to the First Nations people.

Today scientists know that the spirit bear’s unique colouring is the result of a double recessive gene found in black bears. A white spirit bear can have a black cub and vice versa.

The spirit bear survives because of its isolation from other bears, namely grizzly bears, and an abundance of salmon in intact estuaries. These key characteristics are essential to Neasloss – and to the success of the lodge.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons he’s been so active in government-related work. A marine use planning coordinator for the Kitasoo Band from 2005 to 2011, he helped the community develop its own marine use plan. “We’ve been doing a lot of work on behalf of the bears,” he says, arguing that marine protection is just as important as land preservation. Why? Because bears depend on salmon.

Lodge manager Tim McGrady agrees. “If we’re not looking after the salmon, we’re not looking after the bears,” he says. “Without the salmon, we don’t have a business. The resources are at the core of what we do.”

The community is happy with the spectacular lodge it built in 2007 and looking forward to continuing to grow its business.

We want to provide an alternative to the consumption economy,” says McGrady. “We couldn’t just be a small mom and pop business. We’ve had to show real revenue and real return. Logging and mining have been economic drivers in the region. We want to be a really viable alternative.”