More than two dozen coastal First Nations are attracting more than $200 million in new conservation and science investment in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.

First Nations attracting record investments for the Great Bear Rainforest

Historic investments for the Great Bear Rainforest, including a royal endorsement from Prince William during the Royal Tour in Bella Bella.

A historic agreement between Coastal First Nations, the Government of B.C., the logging and pulp industry and environmental NGOs has enabled over two dozen First Nations communities to attract $200 million in new investment to conserve, beautify and develop the Great Bear Rainforest conservation economy.

Coast Funds, a partnership between First Nations along the Great Bear Rainforest, the province, industry and environmental groups announced last week some early positive signs of preserving and developing the conservation economy over the past eight years.

“Coast Funds was created from an unprecedented level of collaboration and leadership by First Nations throughout coastal British Columbia that continues to grow stronger. We are proud today to be announcing many significant positive outcomes that are already being realized from First Nations’ initiatives since the initial Great Bear Rainforest agreements,” said Merv Child, chair of Coast Funds in a press release last week.

More than 250 projects have begun in diversifying the province’s coastal economy, with $62 million raised from Coast Funds. Almost 700 new permanent jobs have been created in science and research, ecosystem-based management, forestry, ecotourism, manufacturing, agriculture and more. Five hundred of those jobs are held by First Nations members.

Tsimshian First Nations such as Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Hartley Bay, Kitkatla and non-Tsimshian Nass Valley-based Nisga’a Nation all work in partnership with Coast Funds and their territory makes up part of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Coastfunds.ca outlines the Gitga’at First Nation (or Hartley Bay) and their developed Gitga’at Guardian program to protect rare marine life found in the territory. The Guardians worked with the North Coast Cetacean Society to develop a hydrophone network – underwater microphones that detect orca and humpback whale calls. It helps locate and identify whale feeding areas, travel routes, how long they stay in a certain place and tracks population dynamics.

The Gitga’at Guardians also monitor Spirit Bears, or black bears with rare white coats. The Guardians are researching bear foraging patterns and habitat ranges to ensure safe survival of the species in the area.

Hair snag stations are set up, and when the hair is tested, DNA results can show number of bears in the region, whether they have the white coat, the bear’s diet and if they’re getting enough to eat.

“It’s now more important than ever to ensure that the traditional use knowledge we possess, as Gitga’at people and as Tsimshian people, is passed on so that future generations can continue to protect our natural resources. We are proud to share stories with other First Nation communities about our Gitga’at Guardian program and the science and research efforts we are leading throughout Gitga’at territories in partnership with Coast Funds,” said Gitga’at First Nation Chief Councillor Arnold Clifton.

Eighty-five per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest is protected from industrial logging, a marked increase of 20 years ago when five per cent had been protected from clear-cutting. As of September, Coast Funds has approved more than $70 million toward 271 conservation and sustainable development projects in the rainforest and its communities.

The Royal Visit

Part of the 6.4-million hectare rainforest is part of the Royal Tour to Canada from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1. Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, visited Bella Bella on Sept. 26 and explored the rainforest. The B.C. government announced a $1-million for a new Great Bear Rainforest Education and Awareness Trust, which was timed in commemoration of the royal visit.

Prince William endorsed the rainforest under the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative. The initiative began in 2015 to build a network on forest conservation involving the 53 countries in the Commonwealth.