Environmental Stewardship Initiative

Established in May 2014, the Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) is an innovative form of collaboration and partnership between the Province and First Nations, designed to produce high-quality, accessible and trusted environmental information. Projects are designed to focus on:

  • Ecosystem assessment and monitoring;
  • Ecosystem restoration and enhancement;
  • Ecosystem research and knowledge exchange; and
  • Stewardship education and training.

The ESI is providing a model for collaboration on stewardship that gives meaningful effect to reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). ESI projects are beginning to yield results, providing valuable information to improve resource management in British Columbia.  A few highlights of the year are showcased in the newsletter.

To date, representatives from approximately 30 First Nations, industry, and the federal and provincial governments have participated in the development of four regional environmental stewardship projects. A governance working group with representatives from all four stewardship forums provides governance oversight and guidance for the ESI.

About the Forums

Four Regional Stewardship Forums have been established in the Skeena, Omineca, the Northeast and North Coast to identify and develop projects according to priorities in each area. Enabling agreements between participating First Nations and the Province provide a formal basis for collaboration on ESI regional projects. More information is provided below on each of the four regional collaborative stewardship Forums.

North Coast

The North Coast  ESI Regional Stewardship Forum areas of focus include both habitat restoration projects and the longer-term, value-based work to address cumulative effects – the environmental effects of human activities, past and present –  within the territories of the six participating North Coast Nations: Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Metlakatla, Haisla, Gitxaala, and Gitga’at. The North Coast Ecosystem Restoration Project is delivered through Nation-led Indigenous Stewardship Projects with collaboration occurring through shared data, lessons learned, methodologies, and site visits. To address cumulative effects, the North Coast ESI has aligned with the North Coast sub-region of the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) to produce an integrated North Coast  program with a focus on co-developing the foundation, assessment, management, and monitoring of four initial values: aquatic habitats – estuary, food security, access to resources and salmon. This integration allows work to advance efficiently, eliminating duplicated efforts and using the strength of the partnership to reach common goals.

Enabling agreements for the North Coast ESI are provided below (similar agreements exist under MaPP).

North East / Regional Strategic Environmental Assessment

The Regional Strategic Environmental Assessment (RSEA) is an agreement between the Province and seven Treaty 8 First Nations: Blueberry River, Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, Saulteau, West Moberly and McLeod Lake.

The agreement laid the groundwork for how the parties will assess the effects of natural resource development activities on the First Nations’ rights under Treaty 8, as recognized and affirmed by section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The parties are assessing the cumulative effects of natural resource development activities within an area near the Montney shale gas basin. The values supporting the assessment are old forest/ biodiversity, water, moose, peaceful enjoyment, and environmental livelihoods.

The results of the assessment will be used to inform and recommend management responses that avoid, minimize, mitigate, offset, or otherwise respond appropriately to the effects identified on the exercise of Treaty 8 rights.

The enabling agreement for the RSEA is provided below along with a link to the RSEA Disturbance Layer in the BC Data Catalogue.

Omineca

The Omineca ESI demonstration project is changing the way B.C. and the Carrier Sekani First Nations talk about land and resource stewardship. Models have been completed identifying key areas of importance for Omineca ESI’s values (moose, forest biodiversity and freshwater, and anadromous fish). The analysis indicates that these values in the Omineca region are at risk in many parts of the study area. This collaboratively developed information is being used in the Immediate Forest Management Measures (IMs)to support the values by avoiding key areas and changing management to implement short-term change on the landscape for the values and preserve options for future protection.  The IMs are voluntary practices and require co-operative implementation by forest licensees. Recognizing this, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between seven First Nations, B.C. and seven major licensees was developed and signed in November 2018. The signing of the MOU represented unprecedented participation.

The enabling agreement for the Omineca ESI is provided below.

Skeena

The Skeena Sustainability Assessment Forum (SSAF) is a collaborative process involving 10 Skeena Nations and provincial agencies working together on environmental stewardship. The forum is focusing on creating data from environmental monitoring of medicinal plants, grizzly bear, fish and fish habitat, moose, and wetlands.

The SSAF works to incorporate Indigenous perspectives, knowledge and science; monitor the condition, status, and trends of shared resource values; analyze data to assess the current condition and historic trend of the resource values; and, provide this information as a resource for decision-makers.  

Participating First Nations include the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, Gitwangak Hereditary Chiefs, Gitxsan Nation, Lake Babine Nation, Witset First Nation, Nee Tahi Buhn Band, Office of the Wet’suwet’en (representing Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs), Hagwilget Village Council, Skin Tyee Nation, and Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

The enabling agreement for the Skeena ESI is provided below.