Temperate rainforests are rare ecosystems found in only eleven regions of the world. The Great Bear Rainforest, located on Canada’s Pacific Coast, represents one quarter of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforest and is part of the largest intact temperate rainforest system left on the planet. Historically, First Nations carefully managed the abundant natural resources of both land and sea. Throughout much of the last century, however, extractive industries have operated in First Nations’ traditional territories despite their protests.
In fewer than 10 years, conservation initiatives transformed coastal First Nation territories in British Columbia from an area of conflict into the site of a model conservation effort that is uniting a wide array of stakeholders. The CBC’s Pacific Programs fosters a conservation partnership with Qqs Projects Society (Qqs means “eyes” in the Heiltsuk language), a registered charitable society within the Heiltsuk traditional territory in coastal British Columbia whose mission is “to support Heiltsuk youth, culture and environment.” A key focus area for Qqs is supporting the monitoring and stewardship of Heiltsuk Territory, which is strongly linked to the deeply held value that taking care of Heiltsuk territory is the foundation of building and maintaining a healthy community where Heiltsuk culture is strong and active.
In 2006, partnership with Qqs enabled the establishment of Coastwatch, a First Nation-driven science-based resource management arm of Qqs. With ongoing technical assistance from Pacific Programs, Coastwatch is on the cutting-edge of applying high-quality scientific information to the challenge of managing a set of recently recognized wilderness conservancy areas that comprise the largest tracts of remaining coastal temperate rainforest on earth. At its core, CoastWatchstrives to link with existing planning and management processes at-scale to provide practical and usable protocols and information for field monitoring focused on a suite of ecological indicators driven by First Nations vision and values.
Beginning in 2006, CoastWatch used hair-capture stations and DNA analysis to estimate the presence of over 100 individual grizzly bears in the Koeye River Conservancy at the southern end of Heiltsuk Territory. This finding placed bear numbers in the Koeye on par with some of the most significant grizzly bear aggregations in the world, and more importantly it highlights First Nation members as contributors to globally significant scientific research. This work has placed our local partners at the forefront of science-based resource management in the region and will support calls from several First Nations to amend the regulation of trophy hunting for grizzly bears.