The federal government says it’s signed its first major nature agreement with a province and First Nations to mutually support protecting 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030.
In Vancouver on Friday morning, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault joined B.C. Premier David Eby, several cabinet ministers from both governments and First Nations leaders to announce a $500-million commitment from both governments for an agreement that would help conserve and protect land, species and biodiversity in the province.
“This is a major step forward in support of Canada’s goal to protect 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030, which all provinces should get behind,” said Guilbeault in a news release.
The development of a “nature agreement” between B.C. and Ottawa was first announced in 2021 as a way to meet the goal of protecting 30 per cent of the province’s landbase by 2030, while also advancing reconciliation and stewardship in partnership with the province’s 200,000 First Nations people.
The agreement is meant to protect old growth forests in the province, which support at-risk biodiversity and continue to be lost to logging, support the recovery of species at risk, and restore ecosystems throughout the province.
Financing for the deal directs the use of several already announced conservation initiatives, such as B.C.’s $100-million watershed security fund and $200-million land restoration fund.
The federal government is providing new money as part of its $500 million, but also uses previously announced monies, such as a $50-million old-growth protection fund announced as part of the federal government’s 2021 budget.
The federal government said Friday’s announcement of the deal, called the “Tripartite Framework Agreement on Nature Conservation,” is the first major nature agreement of its kind and will serve as a model of collaboration with First Nations to halt and reverse the loss of nature.
“With mutual recognition of First Nations as the original stewards and title holders to our lands and waters, we have reached a jointly developed framework with sustained funding to achieve our collective goals for biodiversity protection, restoration and stewardship,” said Chief Terry Teegee with the B.C. Assembly of First Nations in a release.
‘Implementation … cannot wait’
Ecojustice, which uses the justice system to protect nature in Canada, said Friday in a release that although the agreement is non-binding, its goals are worthy and must be accomplished quickly to protect the province from the perils of advancing climate change.
“It is imperative that Canada and B.C. breathe life into the spirit of this non-binding framework by cooperating with all interested First Nations and prioritizing immediate action,” said Victoria Watson, a lawyer with the organization. “Implementation of these commitments cannot wait.”
Conservation groups in B.C., who have long called for appropriate funding to protect lands and provide alternative economic opportunities for communities and nations which rely on industries such as forestry, said the agreement was welcomed.
They say currently about 15 per cent of lands in B.C. are protected from development and industrial activities, but the province still lacks standalone legislation to protect species at risk.
“Provincial and federal laws don’t yet safeguard nature and biodiversity. That needs to change,” said Charlotte Dawe with the Wilderness Committee.
Despite a plan and financial commitment to protect vast amounts of land in B.C. from biodiversity loss, conservationists said both the provincial and federal governments have not guaranteed that any future protected areas will exclude industrial activity, such as logging or mining.
On Friday, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship for British Columbia Nathan Cullen said instead there could be “modified activities” considering governments must work with nations seeking to benefit economically from the natural resources within their territories.
Conservation groups also said that in the nearly three years it’s taken to come up with the agreement, old-growth forests continued to be logged at mostly unchanged rates, including the habitat of endangered species like the spotted owl.
The Wilderness Committee said with the nature agreement now in place, further, permanent protections must immediately follow.
“Now, the government has finally clarified this funding can be used to remove areas from logging tenures and formally protect them through Indigenous leadership — they have no more excuses and no more time to waste,” said Torrance Coste.
Source: CBC News