Land Management is a relatively new concept. Up until recently we drew our political boundaries and used resources as needed with little thought for much else. Global warming and the realization that we can in fact deplete a resource beyond recovery, no matter how renewable, have changed how we think about the land we live on. We must manage according to nature’s rules or we lose the game. By this time most provinces have rewritten their environmental laws to reflect a more conscious and holistic management style – using watersheds and natural ecological boundaries rather than the political ones.
A problem remains however; there are still no laws that put the basic needs of an ecosystem above those of people. Many western provinces have introduced a minimum flow requirement for many rivers and streams. Meaning that in the event of a drought if water levels are reaching that minimum no more water will be allowed to be withdrawn for human use. A smart move considering that if we draw a river dry we are destroying both the ecosystem and our own ability to use it. Wait for it, here comes the but… water licenses issued before the new laws are exempt from the minimum flow requirement, which sort of turns the law into an empty jester. If a riverbed dries up, even if the water returns eventually, it still takes many years for water quality to be restored by the balance of organisms that make aquatic ecosystems their home. That is assuming they manage to recover at all. As we fragment the landscape it becomes more difficult for organisms to migrate to fill abandoned niches. So we aren’t quite there yet. However, First Nations are getting closer.
Early explorer accounts would have us believe they stumbled across a completely untouched wilderness. This is false. First Nations have been managing the landscape to enhance the growth of important food and medicinal plants for thousands of years. It may have appeared untouched but the reality was that First Nations were subtly manipulating the forests and plains with fire, harvesting and propagation practices. It wasn’t farming, who would do all that work when nature can do most of it for you? It was quite a sophisticated system and carefully monitored to ensure resources remained plentiful. And then we all conveniently forgot all about it and now here we are trying to do what they were doing 500 years ago.
Unfortunately, First Nations land management techniques have never been used as the basis for policy. Part of the issue is that they belong in a belief system that our extraction-based worldview just can’t accommodate. When First Nations knowledge is gathered it is often broken into pieces or even collected in pieces, taken out of context. It is incomplete and then misused in our interpretations. This is a major oversight on the part of policy makers and land use planners.
Despite all the frustration they must feel when their knowledge is ignored, some First Nations have succeeded in creating their own land use plans.
The Tla’ amin are located just north of Vancouver, here are some of the principals guiding their land management, minimize human influence on the land, support family-maintained hunting and gathering areas, seasonally rotate harvesting sites, implement replanting and reseeding systems, take only what you need, and find a use for every part of what you take and finally, take care of the land and it will take care of you.
The Nisga’ a Lisims also have their own land use plans that vary from “western” ideals in both priorities and execution. They have set the context, terms of reference and the regulations. One of the major differences is how the Nisga are making non-timber forest products a key factor in forest management decisions, an awareness lacking in every federal and provincial forestry plan.
One of the greatest advantages of First Nations land management is that individuals are given responsibility for key areas, like stream keepers for example. They live on the land and see it every day; if something needs attention they are responsible for getting it done. Their authority to make those decisions is recognized and respected by the community. Meanwhile, over in conventional policymaking, we rely on data samples collected for a few days in the field. Or we wait decades to act because we have insufficient data to make decisions, not very effective if you ask me. But the two techniques combined would make an excellent basis on which to make decisions.
It isn’t here yet but the day is coming when our policies will actually be about protection, until then they continue to be about permitting extraction. Hopefully, First Nations will be able to provide successful management models that we can look to for guidance when we are finally ready to take the action needed for truly sustainable resource management.
Have you heard of any progressive land management practices?
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