Resource Development Sparks Intriguing Discussion
Prince George, B.C. – A weekend of conversations dealing with the cumulative impacts of resource development on northern BC opened at UNBC Friday night with a keynote panel discussion on inter-jurisdictional issues.
Panel members included Stephanie Killam – former Mayor of Mackenzie and Chair of the Muskwa-Kechika Advisory Board, Ross Wilson – Director of Stewardship with the Metlakatla First Nation, Brian Frenkel – Director of Avision Management Services and President of the North Central Local Government Association, and Terry Robert – Regional Manager of the Fraser Basin Council.
The NCLGA covers a region from 100 Mile House to the Yukon border and the Rockies to Haida Gwaii and 41 communities and regional districts. Frenkel says the biggest challenge is that communities in every region are tied to resource extraction but the cumulative impacts of all of those resource-based operations are not known. We have to define what the impacts are and discuss that with the communities.
Ross Wilson says “to us we see it as change in values from the social economic pressures. This question came to us as early as 2012 when the stewardship program first opened its door and we started addressing this LNG interest on a downside.” Stephanie Killam says we have to find a balance between wilderness and resource extraction and work together under a general framework that applies to all communities. Terry Robert says all communities have their own perspectives on the issue and “we really don’t know much about cumulative impacts of resource development yet.” He says what’s needed is a decision-informing process.
Panel moderator, CIRC Project Lead Chris Buse, asked panelists to identify promising projects. Wilson pointed to LNG and said Metlakatla observed for the 19 major referrals that came in for things such as pipelines “and countless other minor referrals for putting in a boat launch or whatever, they decided that if we don’t get a grasp on what this actually means there’s the common thought that we would be standing on the shore watching as that opportunity went by, but at the same time addressing the potential impact which is the creation of the stewardship program.”
Killam pointed to a joint venture community forest between the McLeod Lake Indian Band and Mackenzie. “Part of our plan is that as we log we have to look at what people can do on the land and what we can get off of the land after the trees are gone and what to grow on it.” She says both the McLeod Lake Band and the District of Mackenzie were recently presented with $500,000 as profits from the community forest.
Robert pointed to the Knowledge to Action Project which took people from widely varied fields, put them together, found they were speaking very different languages and couldn’t bridge the gap. He says there’s a need to open a common dialogue.
Frenkel says his positive experience was his involvement in bringing the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Facility to Vanderhoof to save what had become an endangered species due to the cumulative impacts of decisions and developments made since before the 1950s. He says cumulative effects “gradually stack up on top of each other but that’s where, is anybody really looking at what it’s doing to the entire ecosystem?”
On inter-jurisdictional issues in addressing cumulative impacts Killam says “people don’t listen to each other and they get very focused on their little coroner of whatever it is. In the case of the Muskwa-Kechika we have cross-jurisdictional borders with the people who are out of the land, First Nations and now we have industrial. So what we’re trying to do is to balance off how can we make it all work.” She says her job is to make sure that they see eye to eye so that plans can work. Killam says we need to get away from looking only at the bottom line and we need people to champion things.
Robert says government, aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities have to understand the land, water and air if they’re to make informed, far-reaching resource decisions. He says we can get lost in data and “at the end of the day it comes down to interactions between people, making informed decisions that reflect the will and the desires of those people to create a positive vision for themselves to live in.”
Frenkel says “I think most of northern British Columbia suffers from a medical condition called S-T-P-D-E, which is “the same ten people do everything”, and that’s what happens out there. He says you need input from everyone, not just the same few people. That’s a sentiment echoed by Roberts when he says “get involved. If all you’re doing is voting, you’re not taking part in democracy.”
Ross Wilson believes that on this question of cumulative impacts of resource development what is needed is relationship-building between government, industry, NGOs, First Nations, First Nations to First Nations “so that the work we do impacts more than just cutting up the territory. It’s going to impact the environment.” He says the sins of the past have become policy today.
Finally, Stephanie Killam wants to know where the youth fit into this wide discussion. “They’re going to be the leaders of the future, so how do we get them engaged, how do we find out what their ideas of what is cumulative effects or what will affect them or how do they see the future? We tend to forget all about that. They have a say and they have ideas and we don’t listen to them as much as we should.”
The discussion continues today with workshops at UNBC.