The Tahltan Nation has signed a “milestone” land-use plan with the provincial government aimed at preserving the Klappan Valley’s cultural and environmental assets, and guiding future resource development.
Among its directives, the Klappan Plan defines where resource management activities can occur and also prohibits industrial development of a 287,000-hectares area cradling the Sacred Headwaters — the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers — for a minimum of 20 years.
“It’s nice to bring this across the finish line — it was a pretty emotional day,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
“I live in the northwest and fundamentally understand the significance of this milestone for creating land-use certainty in the plan area, which contains such an abundance of vital ecological values for the watersheds involved.”
A significant part of the agreement is a decision-making and management board comprised of three members of the Tahltan Nation and three representatives of the province. That collaboration, which went out of favour with the previous Liberal government, Donaldson says, is something the NDP government will delve into more with other B.C. First Nations. The goal is avoid scenarios where major projects are delayed or cancelled after significant investment due to poor planning and inadequate consultation.
“It’s a sign of things to come,” Donaldson says. “That’s the kind of thing that has to happen more and more in B.C. to reach certainty that investors want, and First Nations want around protection of values in their territory. It’s what the people of B.C. want.”
He says the government approved $14 million in the last budget to invigorate the land-use planning process with First Nations. More agreements are expected to be announced soon.
Donaldson attended a ceremonial signing of the Klappan Plan near Iskut Aug. 27, alongside about 100 Tahltan members, including Tahltan Central Government President Chad Norman Day, Iskut Band Chief Marie Quock and Tahltan Band Chief Rick McLean.
“The signing of the Klappan Plan has been many years in the making and I commend all the people and partners who have tirelessly advocated and worked alongside the Tahltan Nation to make this historic day a reality,” Day says. “The Klappan area and Sacred Headwaters are culturally significant to our people, and one of the most ecologically important areas in the world, so we are truly excited to see this area protected for all future generations.”
The plan is the result of collaboration since 2013 between the Tahltan and provincial government to advance reconciliation and identify innovative approaches for the protection and management of the Sacred Headwaters. It is not intended to define any Aboriginal rights or title.
The plan identifies three distinct zones with varying acceptable land uses covering more than 620,000 hectares. This includes a 20-year deferral on major industrial activity in the 287,000-hectare Zone A of the Sacred Headwaters, but also allows for amendments if consensus is reached by both the Tahltan and the province on land-management objectives. Other land uses, such as recreation and guide outfitting, are mostly acceptable.
In Zone B, covering more than 49,000 hectares, economic development is permitted but will need to show advance planning to avoid or mitigate impacts on areas of high cultural importance.
Zone C, covering 284,000 hectares, is the most friendly to development. Industrial activities that are environmentally and culturally sound, and conform to regulatory processes and agreements between the province and TCG, will generally be accepted and supported.
The Tahltan Nation’s territory spans 95,933 square kilometres of northwest British Columbia — equivalent to 11 per cent of the province — and includes 70 per cent of B.C.’s Golden Triangle.
The territory is also home to three of the provinces 19 operating mines and approximately 25 per cent of exploration activities per expenditure, according TCG.
The signing of the Klappan Plan follows the federal government’s approval Aug. 19 of up to $4 million to help TCG enact stewardship and land-use planning under the nation’s Protected and Conserved Areas project.
TCG says as its territory undergoes unprecedented levels of resource development, the project will decrease uncertainty for resource partners by allowing the nation to better define and enact stewardship measures of key habitat for species at risk, including woodland caribou and pacific salmon.