This story originally appeared in The Rocky Mountain Goat
Indigenous groups whose territories encompass The Raush Valley near McBride, B.C., have declared the near-pristine watershed an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area.
The status comes after decades of lobbying by local conservations and represents the first major IPCA designation declared by the Simpcw First Nation.
“It’s an area of real significance for Simpcw,” says Simpcw elected Chief George Lampreau.
The Raush Valley watershed hosts endangered chinook salmon, acts as a wildlife corridor between Wells Grey Park, Bowron Lakes and the Upper Fraser River, and feeds the Fraser River headwaters. It is rich with old-growth forest, and represents the biggest intact tributary to the Fraser River which has not been fully protected.
Two isolated patches of the Raush are currently Provincial Protected Areas, but those protections total just 6,667 hectares of the watershed’s 101,000 hectares.
The vow to protect the land comes on the heels of Prince George, B.C.-based Carrier Lumber’s application to build logging roads through the Raush, including through an existing protected area. Lampreau says the logging plan sparked the Simpcw’s efforts to conserve the area.
“At that time, we felt we were not adequately consulted. We wanted to have further discussion on it and the district manager at the time basically said, ‘No, that’s done, we’re going to move ahead,’” Lampreau said, adding that the Simpcw have the support of the Lheili T’enneh, a band with an overlapping traditional territory claim on the Raush Valley.
What is an ICPA?
A 2018 report by a Northwest Territories group called the Indigenous Circle of Experts defines Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) as “lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems.”
The report says IPCAs generally share three essential elements: they are Indigenous-led, represent a long-term commitment to conservation, and elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities.
According to West Coast Environmental Law, IPCAs—also known as Indigenous Protected Areas, Tribal Parks, or Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas—are declared under an Indigenous nation’s own inherent authority. In B.C., several Indigenous nations have declared Tribal Parks in their territories, often to protect special areas from logging or mining.
“They are modern expressions of the inherent authority of Indigenous nations and exist whether or not the Canadian state recognizes them,” a West Coast Environmental Law spokesperson said.
Whether IPCAs are recognized under Canadian law is another question.
“At this point, they live in a legal grey zone,” writes Georgia Lloyd-Smith, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law. “Unlike other countries, like Australia, the Canadian government has not formally recognized IPCAs.”
He says no federal, provincial or territorial statute explicitly recognizes the right of Indigenous nations to declare or govern their own conserved areas.
B.C.’s Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship has said it is committed to working with First Nations on a “co-managed approach” to land and resource management.
“The declaration by Simpcw does not result in a change to current provincial land use status but does indicate an opportunity for Simpcw and the Province to continue to engage on long-term stewardship of the area,” a statement said.
In other words, licensee activities—such as logging—would not be legally restricted until provincial land use statuses change.
The Ministry indicated the Simpcw’s announcement was not done in conjunction with usual government planning processes, but Chief Lampreau says the Simpcw have taken action where the government has failed to act.
“We’re willing to work with government on these things,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to be the majority decision maker, because we know what we need in our valleys, in our communities.”
Logging and grazing licenses are an example of something he believes should be managed differently across their traditional territories. Lampreau said the Raush used to be a safe haven for the Simpcw’s ancestors.
“We’ve seen the damage and destruction cows are doing on some of the riparian areas and we’re not happy with it.”
The name “Raush” originated in the 19th century as a contraction of “Riviere au Shuswap.” Later map versions showed R. au Shuswap, then Raushuswap, and from this it became Raush.
Despite the B.C.’s government’s non-committal stance on fully protecting the Raush from industry, Lampreau says for now, logging will be a no-go.
“It will remain intact as it is,” he said.
The Simpcw’s designation is a welcome step for those who’ve lobbied for decades for the Raush’s protection.
“It makes us very happy,” said Roy Howard, President of the Fraser Headwaters Alliance (FHA), a local volunteer-run conservation group which has campaigned for the Raush’s protection. “Our hope is that the Simpwc will try to turn it into a Class A Park, fully protecting it — not allowing any logging or mining.”
The Valley is made up mostly of unceded Crown Land, with a small amount of private land. There is some private grazing land and an old homestead in the lower end and recently some clearcut logging near its confluence with the Fraser, between McBride and Dunster, Howard says.
FHA and Conservation North, a volunteer-run, science-based conservation group advocating in central and northern B.C., say additional benefits to protecting the Raush are the vast carbon reserves which are kept within ecological cycles; endangered fish habitats that are kept clean of excess siltation; and limited access that will continue to keep endangered species inaccessible to poachers.
“There are so few places like that now,” Conservation North’s Michelle Connelly told journalist Laura Keil of the Rocky Mountain Goat. “There are so many ecological wins achieved by protecting the Raush.”
Laura Keil // Rocky Mountain Goat // email@example.com