Province says land use status unchanged

By Laura Keil

After decades of lobbying by local conservationists, the Raush Valley, a near-pristine watershed adjoining the Robson Valley, is coming under the protection of an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (ICPA) by the Simpcw, the First Nation says.

Simpcw Kúkpi7 George Lampreau

“For years, we’ve been gathering research on the area, and it’s an area of real significance for Simpcw,” says Simpcw Kúkpi7 (elected Chief) George Lampreau.

The vow to protect that land comes just a few years after timber company Carrier Lumber applied to build roads through the Raush, including through a small existing protected area, to access timber. Lampreau says the logging plan referral sparked their effort to conserve the area.

“At that time, we felt we were not adequately consulted. We wanted to have further discussion on it and the district manager at the time basically said, ‘No, that’s done, we’re going to move ahead with plans to open a road in there and do some logging.’ That’s when we started talking about making it indigenous conservation protected area that could actually protect the intact valley as well as deal with the Province not properly consulting with Simpcw on such a significant area for our people.”

Lampreau says they have the support of the Lheili T’enneh, a band with an overlapping traditional territory claim on the Raush Valley. The Goat reached out to the Lheili T’enneh for comment but did not hear back by presstime.

The Raush is a wildlife corridor between Wells Gray Park and the upper Fraser River. It’s an intact valley. It’s the biggest, intact tributary to the Fraser that’s not protected,” said Roy Howard of Fraser Headwaters Alliance. View looks North towards the confluence of the Raush and Fraser rivers. / FRASER HEADWATERS ALLIANCE

What is an ICPA?

A 2018 report by a Northwest Territories group called the Indigenous Circle of Experts defines Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) as “lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems.” The report says IPCAs generally share three essential elements:they are Indigenous-led, represent a long-term commitment to conservation, and elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities.

According to West Coast Environmental Law, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) – also known as Indigenous Protected Areas, Tribal Parks, or Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas – are declared under an Indigenous nation’s own inherent authority. In BC, several Indigenous nations have declared Tribal Parks in their territories, often to protect special areas from logging or mining.

“Indigenous nations may choose to designate parts of their territories as protected areas under their own jurisdiction and using their own laws,” says an explanation on their website. “They are modern expressions of the inherent authority of Indigenous nations and exist whether or not the Canadian state recognizes them.”

Whether IPCAs are recognized under Canadian law is another question. 

“At this point, they live in a legal grey zone,” writes Georgia Lloyd-Smith, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law. “Unlike other countries, like Australia, the Canadian government has not formally recognized IPCAs.”

He says no federal, provincial or territorial statute explicitly recognizes the right of Indigenous nations to declare or govern their own conserved areas.

BC Government responds

When asked for a response regarding the Simpcw’s protection of the Raush, the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship released a statement:

“We respect and acknowledge the efforts of First Nations, like the Simpcw, to protect ecosystems within their territories and care for the water, land, animals, and other natural resources that their communities have relied on for millennia.”

The Ministry said it’s committed to working together with First Nations on a “co-managed approach” to land and resource management.

“The declaration by Simpcw does not result in a change to current provincial land use status but does indicate an opportunity for Simpcw and the Province to continue to engage on long-term stewardship of the area.”

In other words, licensee activities – such as logging – would not be legally restricted until provincial land use statuses change.

This is the first major IPCA designation declared by the Simpcw.

The Ministry indicated the announcement was not done in conjunction with usual government planning processes.

“Where possible, our preferred approach is for Indigenous-led stewardship interests, such as IPCAs, to be addressed through government-to-government collaborative processes like modernized land use planning,” a statement said. “This ensures that economic, environmental, social, and cultural values are considered, that collaborative processes can be built with First Nations and that robust engagement can be undertaken with stakeholders, local government, and the public. We look forward to continuing to explore land use and stewardship with Simpcw First Nation for the Raush Valley including managing for important values.”

Chief Lampreau says the Simpcw have taken action where the government has fallen down.

“We’re willing to work with government on these things. But at the end of the day, we’re going to be the majority decision maker, because we know what we need in our valleys, in our communities in order for us to be successful, not some individuals sitting in Victoria trying to tell us ‘You guys should do this. And you should do that.’ They haven’t a clue what we need for our valleys to get back to where we once were and have a healthy, prosperous life.”

Logging and grazing licenses are an example of something he believes should be managed differently across their traditional territory.

‘“We’ve seen the damage and destruction cows are doing on some of the riparian areas and we’re not happy with it.”

Lampreau says the Raush used to be a safe haven for the Simpcw’s ancestors when settlers arrived in this part of B.C. The very name “Raush” originated in the 19th century as a contraction of “Riviere au Shuswap” Later map versions showed R. au Shuswap, then Raushuswap and from this it became Raush.

Simpcw approach to conservation

Lampreau says for now logging will be a no-go.

“It will remain intact as it is and a little bit of development that was done out the front by the private landowners will be about it until we decide what we want to do with it. We’re looking at some eco-tourism.”

He says they’ll work with all of the locals in the valley to decide on a plan.

“We’re not just going to come in and tell them we’re going to do this or that and start butting heads. We’ve got a good relationship with the area already and we want to continue that.”

He believes the management of the protected area will be done by a Simpcw-led committee, with stakeholders and locals. 

“We can incorporate their concerns and values.”

Anyone wanting more information on the protected area can call the band office and ask for their lands person.

“Simpcw are willing to partner up and work with industry, government, everyone in the Valley. We’re going to take the lead on a lot of things, but we we enjoy the partnerships. We see the benefits of working together and the strengths that a collective voice has.”

Importance to protect

The Raush watershed hosts endangered chinook salmon, acts as a wildlife corridor between Wells Grey Park, the Bowron Lakes and the Upper Fraser River, and feeds the Fraser River headwaters. It is rich with old-growth, and is the biggest, intact tributary to the Fraser that has not been fully protected. Two isolated patches of the Raush are provincial Protected Areas, totalling just 6,667 hectares of the 101,000-hectare watershed. 

The Simpcw’s designation is a dream come true for those lobbying for decades for its protection. 

“It makes us very happy,” says Roy Howard, President of the Fraser Headwaters Alliance, a local volunteer-run conservation group that has campaigned for the Raush’s protection. “It is nice that it will be protected in some manner. Our hope is that the Simpwc will try to turn it into a Class A Park, fully protecting it — not allowing any logging or mining.”

The Valley is made up mostly of unceded Crown Land, with a small amount of private land. There is some private grazing land and an old homestead in the lower end and recently some clearcut logging near its confluence with the Fraser, between McBride and Dunster, Howard says.

The Alliance and Conservation North say additional benefits are the vast carbon reserves that are kept within ecological cycles, endangered fish habitats that are kept clean of excess siltation, and limited access that will continue to exclude poachers from endangered larger mammals.

The fact that the Upper Raush is basically inaccessible is part of the value of the place, Michelle Connelly of Conservation North, told the Goat previously. “There are so few places like that now.”

From a conservation perspective, a larger, intact landscape is more valuable than several small patches of the same amount of land, she said. A bigger area provides continuous range for large animals and reduces the “edge effect”—the ecological deterioration that occurs around the edges of a protected area. 

“There are so many ecological wins achieved by protecting the Raush.”