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Preserve First, Save Later, According to West Kootenay Rural Watershed Report


At a 2019 BC Supreme Court hearing, a judge told a community group in Glade, a rural community near Nelson, that they had no inherent right to clean water.

“Do you have the right to drinking water? Judge Mark McEwan told the court. “I suggest you don’t. There’s just nowhere in the law where you can look and say, “That’s my right, I have a right to clean water.”

The Glade Watershed Protection Society had sued the Interior Health Authority, ATKO Wood Products and Kalesnikoff Lumber on the grounds that the community’s right to clean water was threatened by clear-cutting in their catchment area. The judge dismissed the company’s claim and ordered it to pay the respondents’ legal costs.

Glade resident Barbarah Nichol told the Nelson Star that until then her group had hoped the justice system would provide a solution.

“We’ve done almost everything through the legal system and gotten nowhere, because now we know there’s not a leg to stand on,” she said.

So they opted for a different approach. The company and another West Kootenay group, the Laird Creek Water Users Association, commissioned a scientific study that includes a series of maps of their watersheds showing factors that should be considered if forest planning was done with consideration. water protection.

The 170-page study, titled Preliminary Nature-directed Stewardship Plans for Glade and Laird Watersheds, can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3fvB6sT.

Al Walters of the Laird Creek Association says the vision of the two rural communities for the future of their forests is broader and longer-term than that of the Department of Forestry or logging companies.

He says the companies and the ministry are focused on timber extraction, and this is reflected in the wording of BC’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation, which states that water, soil, Biodiversity and wildlife must be conserved by forestry companies, but only if this does not have the effect, according to the terms of the regulation, of “unduly restricting the supply of wood”.

The focus is first on the extraction of the wood, “and the rest is kind of ignored,” Walters said.

His organization’s concept of forest management includes interconnected issues such as soils, slope stability, timing and flow of water, forest fire mitigation, biodiversity and climate change planning – each on an equal footing with wood supply.

Preserve First, Save Later

The authors of the Nature-Based Stewardship report are local scientists Herb Hammond, Martin Carver, Greg Utzig, Evan McKenzie, Ryan Durand and Arlo Bryn-Thorne.

The report was produced in collaboration with Neighbors United (formerly known as the West Kootenay EcoSociety) and Ramona Faust, the former Regional District Manager of Central Kootenay, Zone E, in which the two watersheds are located.

Hammond says nature-based stewardship means deciding “which part of a forest should be preserved, before deciding which parts of it should be used.”

To do that, you need to know more than the value of timber and how to access it, he said. For a given watershed, you need to map things like topography, forest types, industrial disturbance, erosion risk, slope stability risk, water flow, unique habitats, and climate. projected future.

The nature-based stewardship document for Laird and Glade includes a series of 14 maps for each of the two watersheds. For example, there is a map that shows all industrial areas, another that shows slope stability risks, several that show different facets of hydrology (water flow), and a map showing old growth forests, non-forested and exploited areas.

Nature-based stewardship, the report says, “should not be confused with land-use planning, where people negotiate how to divide the forest pie for human uses. It is first the protection and restoration of the composition, structure and function of the natural ecosystem, and then human uses.

The documents, Hammond said, are not a plan for these watersheds, but rather a preliminary cataloging of the data that would be needed to make such a plan. This is a first step, and producing a finished plan could take a few years of focused work and funding.

“It’s up to communities to decide”

Yet even if such a plan were eventually produced, the province, forestry companies and private landowners would not be obligated to follow it.

“It’s up to the government to legislate a different approach in domestic and consumptive watersheds,” Faust told the Nelson Star.

She said governments are subject to public pressure, and it is up to communities to apply that pressure and decide how to move forward with the nature-based stewardship report, adding that the report should be “presented to governments as an alternative to splitting”. situations that occur when people’s watershed is destined for industrial logging.

During her 14-year tenure at the RDCK, Faust said, she had to deal with communities complaining to her about logging threatening water supplies. But the RDCK has no mechanism or authority to deal with watershed governance. All authority rests with the forest companies and the provincial government.

The RDCK launched a watershed governance initiative where it began collecting watershed data and exploring how it could have more influence on the province and the timber industry. Faust said it’s too early to tell how effective it will be or how quickly it will go.

The work of the RDCK, which includes data collection and mapping, can be found by following several links at https://bit.ly/3UWvMOa. The site includes information on the independent activities of various watershed groups in the West Kootenay.

In Glade, Nichol says most households get their water either directly or indirectly from Glade Creek.

She says the material and maps from the report will lead to the development of a watershed forest plan.

“Then we will have something to offer the government and the logging companies to tell them, ‘We have a plan. We have a forest plan.’ »

Neighbors United has produced a guide to help communities in Area E produce maps and data such as those in the report, and how to get organized to implement a plan.

The guide is available at https://bit.ly/3g4aFuG.


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