VANCOUVER, BC –(Marketwired – June 28, 2016) – Up to 84 per cent of the traditional territory of the Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN) is now negatively impacted by industrial activity. This was the major finding of a new report released today, the Atlas of Cumulative Landscape Disturbance in the Traditional Territory of Blueberry River First Nations, 2016(the 2016 Disturbance Atlas).
The 2016 Disturbance Atlas finds the Province of B.C. has not only continued to authorize industrial development in the BRFN traditional territory, but has done so at an accelerated scale and rate, despite its knowledge of the worsening cumulative effects on BRFN traditional territory.
“Elders and land users give me daily reports of continuing damage to our lands and water,” says Blueberry River First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey. “Development has extinguished our traditional way of life on wide areas of our land.”
The 2016 Disturbance Atlas, commissioned by BRFN and the David Suzuki Foundation, and authored by Ecotrust Canada, follows findings of the 2012 Atlas which found widespread impacts. Since then, BRFN lands have continued to be damaged by multiple layers of development including oil and gas, forestry, agriculture and roads.
2016 Disturbance Atlas’ most significant findings:
- Nearly 75 per cent of the area inside BRFN traditional territory is within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance, and over 80 per cent is within 500 metres.
- Active petroleum and natural gas tenures cover nearly 70 per cent of BRFN traditional territory.
- With over 100,000 kilometres of linear features in BRFN territory, linear density has reached levels vastly exceeding known thresholds for wildlife habitat.
- Of the total area of B.C. reserved for pipelines via tenures, 46 per cent (13,000 kilometres) falls within BRFN traditional territory.
- Nearly 200,000 hectares of BRFN’s traditional territory has been logged since 1950.
- While 60% of B.C. is considered intact forest landscape, BRFN traditional territory has little intact forest landscape remaining — less than 14%.
“The findings of the 2016 report clearly show that even though the provincial government had clear notice of the scale of harm that existed, including those found in the 2012 Atlas, it has worked to make the problem worse, not better,” says Chief Yahey.
Since the 2012 Atlas was publicly released, the government of B.C. has authorized construction of more than 2,600 oil and gas wells, 1,884 km of petroleum access and permanent roads, 740 km of petroleum development roads, 1,500 km of new pipelines and 9,400 km of seismic lines in BRFN traditional territory. Also since that time, approximately 290 forestry cutblocks were harvested in the Nation’s traditional territory.
“Fracking, forestry, roads and other development is pushing us further and further to the edges of our territory and we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights in the places we’ve always known,” says Chief Yahey.
BRFN has repeatedly requested action from the B.C. government to uphold the guarantee that was given to them by the Crown under Treaty 8. This includes a lawsuit launched against the province by BRFN in March 2015, over the breach of Treaty 8 due to the unprecedented scale and rate of industrial disturbances to the land.
“Despite raising these concerns directly with the premier and with provincial ministers, there has been no meaningful response to this critical threat. Instead, the province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory, including major fracking operations and the Site C Dam, willfully ignoring that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction,” says Chief Yahey.
BRFN has outlined critical areas that require immediate protection. These include areas with some of the most important remaining zones for hunting, trapping, gathering food and medicinal plants. BRFN has also urgently requested the establishment of a cumulative impacts assessment and monitoring program for its territory that would guide decisions about land use and resource extraction in the territory. This request was made directly to the premier in September of 2014, but B.C. has not responded.
As a result of the province’s unwillingness to address this urgent problem, BRFN has used their own resources to develop a Land Stewardship Framework (LSF). The LSF is a response to the damaged condition of the territory, the lack of designated protection areas in the territory, and the lack of a comprehensive and effective policy framework for stewardship. The LSF offers a science-based solution to these issues and represents a pathway to sustainable development in the territory.
BRFN wants to ensure that generations to come are able to meaningfully exercise their treaty rights to live off the land. The ability of BRFN’s children to hunt, eat moose, harvest berries and medicinal plants, and learn their language while on the land, hangs in the balance.
The maps and data for the 2016 Disturbance Atlas were compiled and authored by Ecotrust Canada based on publicly available information.
Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation
“The Atlas reveals an ecological and a social justice crisis. There is no question that the cumulative effects of industrial activity in Blueberry River First Nations’ traditional territories have led to habitat degradation such that the land can no longer offer sustenance such as abundant caribou populations.”
Eliana Macdonald, Atlas Author, Ecotrust Canada
“Ecotrust Canada is proud to help Blueberry River First Nations pursue their treaty rights. This legal battle is one example among many of the lingering disconnect between government and First Nations, and it is our hope that this atlas can help people better understand the true scale of changes to our province’s landscapes, and their impacts on rural communities and First Nations like Blueberry River First Nations.”