As more industry moves into the region and discussions become divided, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust has taken on an initiative to delve into those complex issues and provide perspective on how to approach them better.
This year, SkeenaWild launched its Responsible Development Initiative with the ongoing release of five industry reports to enable a proactive approach by setting strong criteria for assessing projects and how it affects the environment, with suggestions to ensure both its economic and environmental success in the Northwest.
“A lot of people were kind of saying that we’re coming out raising concerns about some of these projects but what do we actually support? What sort of development? And that was a fair question from the community so we thought that we should take some time to really answer that in a thoughtful way,” says Greg Knox, executive director for SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.
“This project provides us a great opportunity to really be proactive about looking at the impacts from different projects in the past and understanding the best practices going forward…
“[We want to] inform the community on how these projects can be done in a manner that protects our values, water, salmon and community.”
The Responsible Development Initiative explores five industry sectors, separated into individual detailed reports: mining, forestry, tourism, manufacturing and renewable energy.
Knox has noticed over the years, as proposed development projects come into the area, that people have become divided, siding with alleged facts that aren’t always true.
Their aim at SkeenaWild is to provide all the research to help citizens have informed opinions.
“It’s often becoming a polarized conversation, either for or against, and what we don’t have enough of is people talking about coming out from an informed place and talking about solutions to some of the concerns they have about these projects because they have the potential to significantly impact our lives in negative ways,” Knox says.
“This initiative helps us start a discussion with the community about what good mining or good forestry, or good energy projects look like.”
The reports include the history of the industries in B.C., recommended practices and technologies, case studies, and ways to work with First Nations in the region — which were consulted before the release of their project.
“We’ve been working with Indigenous communities in the region, some of them for 12 years now, so when we released the report we did presentations to several First Nations communities,” Knox explains. “Some of them are now looking to using this information as a source they can use to engage proponents… we also put together a list of questions for communities to ask companies around salmon and water quality specifically.”
Knox says the reports took several years to put together with the help of many contracted researchers who specialize in the fields. The idea to embark on this work was sparked in 2015, when SkeenaWild knocked on approximately 900 doors as part of their “Skeena 2050” project.
Tania Millen, an environmental scientist and one of the main researchers, says that SkeenaWild came across a common theme when talking to people on their doorsteps.
“They compiled those results and found that people regardless of where they stood on the political spectrum, the jobs they had, the work they did or their after-hours activities, they all were pretty much in union and unanimously were interested in a lifestyle that ensured clean water, fish in the rivers, moose in the woods, and to be able to go out and recreate how and when they wanted to,” says Millen.
“People in northwestern B.C. are all on the same page in what kind of life they’re looking for here… but how do we get there and maintain that is always the question, and that’s where that conflict comes from — especially when questioning jobs and development.”
For Millen, the Responsible Development Initiative was an eyeopening opportunity to understand the region thoroughly through its growing industries and how important it is for people here to have sustainable opportunities for work.
She says it’s possible to have industry jobs that respect the environment by starting to have more of these conversations to increase that awareness. For SkeenaWild, their hope is that people will engage in conversation with one another as opposed to setting up separate camps of thought that reject each other’s perspective.
Already, the Responsible Development Initiative is being introduced to classrooms across the country as there has never been an assessment of this size done for this region. So far, two of the reports are available on SkeenaWild’s website and the remaining three will be released as the year progresses.
Alongside the reports, SkeenaWild is creating videos to further explain their research and highlight people making a difference in the area in relation to the five topics.
SkeenaWild will also be holding presentations in Terrace and other communities in the coming months to engage in discussions following the release of reports. More information can be found on their site or Facebook page for upcoming events.