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OPINION – Establishing a Wildlife Management Area could save B.C.’s most biologically diverse region from catastrophic collapse (incl. Fraser Valley) – BC Wildlife Federation

Surrey – A coalition of 28 Canadian conservation groups is pitching a plan to preserve and protect the most biologically important stretch of river in B.C. – the Heart of the Fraser.

In a seven-page letter to Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources and Rural Development Minister Katrine Conroy, the coalition — led by the BCIT Rivers Institute and the UVIC Environmental Law Centre – describes a bold plan to establish the Heart of the Fraser Wildlife Management Area on the Fraser River between Hope, Chilliwack and Mission.
Immediate action is required to restore B.C.’s most important natural asset and save salmon runs teetering on the brink of collapse.

In a WMA, a regional manager and the ministry would regulate development and resource-based activity, create buffer zones and habitat corridors, and make conservation and management of wildlife a priority for local governments. There are already 31 WMAs in B.C.

Signatories to the proposal ultimately envision the area under the stewardship of local First Nations as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area as part of B.C.’s commitment to reconciliation.   The BCIT Rivers Institute, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Outdoor Recreation Council of BC, BC Wildlife Federation, Raincoast Conservation Society, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, and others have all at various times called for the long-term protection of the most important salmon spawning and rearing areas of the river.

What’s at stake:
The Heart of the Fraser is an incredibly diverse mosaic of floodplains, side channels, wetlands, and gravel bars, and islands that are home to dozens of important species of birds, amphibians, and fish, including the Fraser River White Sturgeon and all five Pacific salmon species.   Dikes and human development have already cut off salmon from 85 per cent of their floodplain habitat in the area. Some of those salmon runs are on the verge of collapse, which has already led to the closure of commercial, recreational and First Nations fisheries.   The abundance of the area has sustained local First Nations for thousands of years and is a foundational food source for seals, sea-lions, beaver, bears, deer, cougars, and coyotes.  

Who is involved:
Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director UVIC Environmental Law Centre

“Establishing a WMA will provide legal protection for the Heart of the Fraser, and help prevent activities like diking and gravel mining that threaten the river’s vital ecosystem. The Wildlife Management Area will benefit all British Columbians – Indigenous and commercial fishers on the river and on the coast; Fraser Basin tourism workers who depend directly on the river’s bounty; and grandparents who patiently teach kids how to fish on Chilliwack sand bars.”
“A Heart of the Fraser Wildlife Management Area is also needed to protect the salmon-eating orcas that leap in the Gulf of Georgia; to preserve the magic of a red-tailed hawk diving and a sandhill crane stalking fish at dawn; to protect the primeval sturgeon that have lurked in these river waters for millennia and to protect the disappearing Thompson River steelhead. Designation is needed to ensure that the ancient gatherings of bald eagles will long endure. “

Ken Ashley Director of the Rivers Institute at BCIT

“The gravel reach of the Fraser River from Hope to Mission is an ecological jewel worthy of an enhanced level of protection. Designating this reach as a Wildlife Management Area is key to protecting it from further agricultural, commercial or residential development. We hope the Minister will act on our request, and consult with First Nations to determine if they are interested in partnering to create, manage and act as guardians for such a Heart of the Fraser Wildlife Management Area that could be – or evolve into – an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area. We’ve seen the cod collapse on the East Coast, and must prevent this tragedy from happening to our Fraser River salmon and sturgeon. Ultimately, conserving the Heart of the Fraser is greater than protecting critical fish and wildlife habitat – it is about social-environmental justice and reconciliation, and this would be a great start to the long journey ahead.”

Katherine MacRae, Executive Director, Commercial Bear Viewing Association  

“Having a healthy salmon population means having a healthy bear population. The Heart of the Fraser means protecting a watershed that is vital to bears throughout the province because bear viewing is an industry that relies on a healthy salmon population. To remain Super, Natural British Columbia, we need salmon.”

Jesse Zeman, Director Fish and Wildlife Restoration BC Wildlife Federation

“In a generation, a number of runs of Fraser River steelhead and salmon have gone from abundant to endangered and some are facing extinction. This is costing us our identity as British Columbians. We cannot continue to lay waste to the Fraser River with unsustainable development and expect healthy returns of salmon. Minister Conroy has a tremendous opportunity to show British Columbians the province is serious about the future of salmon in British Columbia.”  

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