Milestone for First Nations-led conservation in Clayoquot Sound

Funding through Canada’s new Natural Heritage Conservation Program will help protect 300,000 acres of vital old-growth forest and coastline,

The federal government of Canada has committed to funding the land-use visions and authority of First Nations for the iconic Clayoquot Sound as part of a groundbreaking announcement earlier this week. It will help to establish major new protected forest and coastal areas as well as provide funding to support them.

Clayoquot Sound lies in the territories of Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, which have been working for years to develop and advance Land Use Visions that reflect their cultural, economic and environmental priorities.

TNC is working in partnership with local Indigenous communities to conserve old-growth forest along British Columbia's southern coast in Clayoquot Sound. Photo by Bryan Evans.

These Visions include transitioning a collective 300,000 acres into protected status to support sustainable, culturally-appropriate economic development that creates more certainty for these communities’ future, in addition to benefiting British Columbia, Canada, and the world beyond.

The government of Canada announced funding support for these visions and to help establish protected areas covering the majority of Clayoquot Sound, as part of a larger announcement for Canada’s Nature Legacy Initiative.

This announcement by the Canadian government is an important step in recognizing Indigenous authority, protecting vital old-growth forest and coastline, and making progress towards the federal commitment to conserve 17 percent of land and 10 percent of oceans in Canada by 2020.

The Nature Conservancy looks forward to supporting the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht as they work with the federal government and Government of British Columbia to fully embrace the visions of the First Nations and complete co-establishment of the new protected areas.

“On behalf of the Ahousaht Hawiih (Hereditary Chiefs) and all of our Ahousaht Membership, I want to express my sincerest appreciation to the Federal Government and The Nature Conservancy for recognizing the importance of protecting our Hahoulthee (Lands, & Waters). Our approach to stewardship of our Hahoulthee (Lands & Waters) is critical for us not to leave a negative footprint for the seven generations that will follow us. Today is a wonderful day to celebrate Indigenous Values!” said Lewis George, Hereditary Chief of the Ahousaht Nation.

“We thank the federal government for prioritizing Indigenous stewardship in Clayoquot Sound,” said Saya Masso, Manager of Lands and Resources for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. “This commitment will give us the means to enact our land use visions in partnership with the BC government and to the benefit of our communities and all Canadians.”

“We want to express profound gratitude to the First Nations leaders and communities who have shaped an inspiring vision for this special place,” said Mike Stevens, Washington state director of The Nature Conservancy, and co-leader for the Conservancy’s Emerald Edge program, which aims for a thriving future for the world’s largest coastal temperate rainforest along the coasts of Washington, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.

“Indigenous Nations are the best positioned to protect and care for their lands and waters, where they have lived for thousands of years,” Stevens said. “We are proud to support the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht to implement their visions for their territories.” The Conservancy has been working with these Nations over the last eight years to support their visions and management authority for these lands.

Learn More About the Emerald Edge

Today, more than 75 percent of Vancouver Island’s old-growth forests have been logged. Clayoquot Sound represents the last great rainforest on the island. It’s also the site of the historic “War in the Woods” in the early 1990s, in which anti-logging protests by residents, Indigenous communities and environmentalists resulted in one of Canada’s biggest acts of civil disobedience. Hundreds of people were arrested for their blockades and peaceful protests against logging the old-growth forests that protect Clayoquot Sound.

The Nature Conservancy  is committed to raising funds for a stewardship endowment for the Ahousaht and Tla-o-quiaht First Nations to support ongoing management of the new protected areas.

The First Nations are now working with the Government of British Columbia to negotiate their Land Use Plans and the new protected areas. The Nature Conservancy is also working with them to explore new avenues for sustainable economic development and economic diversification in concert with their Land Use Visions, for example through ecotourism and carbon finance that could lead to sequestering as much as 2.5 million tonnes of CO2. The project is expected to create new local jobs and contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change.