B.C. Government Advancing Land Use Plans With Treaty 8 First Nations In Northeast Area Of Province

While the B.C. government continues hammering out long-term land use plans with the Blueberry River First Nations to balance industrial development with treaty rights on its traditional territory laid out in the Jan. 28 Implementation Agreement, it is also working with other Treaty 8 First Nations in the area on similar efforts, government officials said at the Canadian Society for Evolving Energy (CSEE) B.C. Day event in Calgary this week.

The Fort Nelson, Salteau, Halfway River and Doig River Nations have signed consensus letters with the government, while the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations continue mulling it over, said Garth Thoroughgood, VP, Indigenous relations and community engagement with the BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC). Discussions are also ongoing with the McLeod Lake Indian Band.

The government and Treaty 8 First Nations have been working on a consensus document since soon after the Blueberry court decision in June 21. Like with the Blueberry agreement, the purpose of the document is to address the cumulative impacts of resource development on the ability of the First Nations to exercise their treaty rights, to create a plan to start cleaning up existing disturbances that will expand the land available for First Nations use, and to provide industry with guideposts for future development.

If all sign on, the basic framework built in the Blueberry Nations’ Implementation Agreement would be applied, “pretty much across Treaty 8,” said Thoroughgood. What this means is the creation of a shared decision-making model with First Nations and the B.C. government working together to solve the issues identified in the court decision.

Included in the consensus document is a new approach to wildlife co-management. There is a substantial focus on moose and caribou populations which are important both as a food source and culturally to the Treaty 8 Nations, said Thoroughgood.

Management plans to maintain and support populations could include restrictions on development in certain areas or permit conditions limiting activity to certain times of the year. Other solutions could involve restoring or reusing linear disturbances like seismic lines where moose and caribou tend to gather but also provide sightlines for wolves and other predators. Requirements to share existing roads between oil and gas operators and other industrial developers to limit further habitat fragmentation and predator sight lines could also be implemented.

Land use plans key focus

Like the Blueberry First Nations, the other Treaty 8 Nations also want new land use plans and protection measures to be implemented. “The protected areas are very specific areas and have been known for a long time,” said Viva Wolf, executive director of the Oil Infrastructure Group for the B.C. government. “Enhanced management zones are more about planning.”

Pilot projects are underway with government and First Nations collaborating to provide the data and knowledge needed to identify enhanced management zones and to plan development and restoration activities. The pilots will inform government planning and industry planning across Treaty 8 territories, said Wolf.” They are really the groundwork for future applications.”

Developing watershed basin plans in collaboration with First Nations’ will also inform future decision-making, she added. The watershed basin plans will involve multiple First Nations and sectors including oil and gas, forestry, and mining. They will also involve numerous government departments. While watershed plans have been done in the past, they had an environmental focus. “This time First Nations are partners, and the plans could include cultural issues.”

Work is also underway to understand the different priorities and approaches to land management of the Treaty 8 Nations, said Wolf. “We’re trying to let Nations take the lead on how they want to see land management proceed in the area, to identify what’s most important to each of them.”

“We’re taking a consensus-based approach that we will measure over time,” she added.

So far, the government has learned each nation has different concerns, with some nations focused on protecting and restoring wildlife corridors while others put priorities on protecting sacred places or water resources.

Each Nation also has different approaches to planning as well, as government is learning through its shared pilot projects with the First Nations, including a project with the Halfway River Nation. “The Halfway are combining scientific and traditional knowledge,” to help understand the cumulative impacts of development on wildlife health and to inform an enhanced management plan, said Wolf.

Landscape restoration, future funding priorities

Healing and restoring the landscape so Treaty 8 members can exercise their treaty rights was another priority identified in the consensus document.

Testimony at the Blueberry First Nations court case revealed that more than 84 per cent of the Nation’s territory is within 500 metres of an industrial disturbance. The court decision said land needs to not only be protected but restored to enable members of the Nation to exercise their treaty rights.

While all Treaty 8 Nations may not be in similar circumstances, restoration of the landscape is vital, said Wolf.

“We need to restore the balance at a landscape level, not just at a site level. The investment is going to be incremental. It is not about taking over industry’s restoration responsibilities. It is what no one is responsible for — the seismic lines, the older well sites.”

The consensus agreement provides funding to deal with these larger, currently unfunded liabilities. It also identifies a need for revenue sharing to help Treaty 8 Nations build economic capacity. The provincial government has extracted almost $13 billion in royalty payments from Treaty 8 lands, according to some estimates.

Both Indigenous communities and municipalities have long complained that money generated by resource development stays in the highly populated west coast with little tricking back to northeast B.C. New revenue sharing models need to be developed, said Thoroughgood.

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