Salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser is under threat. Less than 4% of streams in the Lower Fraser are still classified as “wild.” Conservation efforts in the region are disjointed, unable to keep pace with the interacting and rapidly advancing forces of habitat loss, climate change, and water pollution. We believe that it is time for a coordinated, overarching ecological plan to protect the Lower Fraser and build its resiliency in a warming and unstable climate.
A Vision for Salmon Habitat
We worked with over 100 organizations to call for a collective vision for salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser. Working in dialogue with NGOs, First Nations, academics, and policymakers, we have developed six policy recommendations to realize this vision.
- Collaborate on habitat protection and restoration
- Enact fish-first policies and nature-based solutions
- Develop a legislated Fraser Watershed plan
- Implement a sustainable funding strategy
- Increase research capacity
- Invest in wild salmon education
The conservation and restoration Funding Landscape of the Lower Fraser River
To advance the 4th recommendation of our Vision, we analyzed the scale and scope of resources invested into habitat restoration and conservation initiatives in the Lower Fraser Region over a ten-year period. We found that of the $91.6 million dollars invested in 482 projects, only 20% went to Indigenous Nations or Indigenous-led organizations. Further, only 8.3% of these projects were Indigenous-led.
We are now conducting an assessment of the funding landscape of the entire Fraser River watershed, spanning one-third of British Columbia, to identify where funding structures and policies can be improved to provide sustainable, long-term funding for habitat restoration and conservation.
Blueprint for Restoring Ecological Governance
Together, we are developing a governance strategy that puts Lower Fraser Indigenous communities at the forefront of decision-making and fosters the long-term ecological resilience of the watershed. In 2020, our group published a Blueprint for Restoring Ecological Governance to the Lower Fraser River, which is shaped by five principles:
- A commitment to sustainability that spans seven generations
- Governance that honours Aboriginal rights and title, inherent Indigenous jurisdiction and law, and UNDRIP
- Clear enforcement mechanisms that ensure ecological resilience
- Sustainable funding for governance and ecosystem based management
- Respect for the opinion, culture, and voice of others
Adapting to climate change
In late 2021, communities in the Lower Fraser experienced devastating flooding. As the waters receded, the Lower Fraser Working Group (Raincoast, the Indigenous-led Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, West Coast Environmental Law, and the University of British Columbia) began exploring flood adaptation strategies that integrate Indigenous legal principles, nature-based solutions, and scientific research.
We identified the restoration of Semá:th (Sumas) Lake using “managed retreat” – a purposeful movement of people and buildings away from areas vulnerable to hazards – as a powerful tool for adapting to increased flood risk in the Fraser Valley.
Our analysis estimates the cost of managed retreat to be around $3-billion – significantly less than the $9 billion price tag needed to build traditional flood control infrastructure. We call on governments to consider an alternative path for the region – one that is innovative, informed and guided by the need to support both climate adaptation and reconciliation.