Policy and Governance

Building a collaborative, ecosystem-based conservation plan for the Lower Fraser River.

Photo by Alex Harris.

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.

Steelhead salmon underwater in a river.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.
Illustration of six salmon for the Vision for Salmon report.
Art by Carrielynn Victor.

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.

  1. Collaborate on habitat protection and restoration
  2. Enact fish-first policies and nature-based solutions
  3. Develop a legislated Fraser Watershed plan 
  4. Implement a sustainable funding strategy 
  5. Increase research capacity
  6. 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. 

The Funding Landscape report cover floats beside salmon working their way along the floor of the Lower Fraser River.
Photo by April Bencze. Report art by Sarah Jim.
salmon swim upstream with bright red bodies, with the report cover in the foreground: Blueprint for Ecological Governance.
Salmon photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foudnation. Report photo by Mike Snyder.

Blueprint for Restoring Ecological Governance

We are collaborating with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, West Coast Environmental Law, and the Martin Conservation Decisions Lab at UBC and have formed the Lower Fraser Working Group (LFWG).

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:

  1. A commitment to sustainability that spans seven generations
  2. Governance that honours Aboriginal rights and title, inherent Indigenous jurisdiction and law, and UNDRIP
  3. Clear enforcement mechanisms that ensure ecological resilience
  4. Sustainable funding for governance and ecosystem based management
  5. 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. 

Synthesis report cover: A lake re-emerges: Analysis of contaminants in the Semá:th X̱ó:tsa (Sumas Lake) region following the BC floods of 2021.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Recent articles

Douglas aster - a purple flower with green leaves.

New research proves that nutrients from the sea can increase terrestrial plant growth and reproduction

Newly published research from Simon Fraser University shows that salmon and marine plants increase both growth and reproduction in terrestrial plants.
Two sockeye salmon swimming in a river.

Bold, sustained action can revitalize wild Pacific salmon in the lower Fraser River

New research shows that Wild Salmon populations in the Fraser can recover if action is taken now.
A close up of two salmon in the bright light of the Fraser River with a map of lost streams and flood plains hovering above.

Quantifying lost habitat for Pacific salmon in the Lower Fraser

Salmon have lost access to as much as 85 per cent of their historical floodplain habitat – the biologically rich wetlands next to a river or stream that typically harbour wildlife – due to dikes and similar infrastructure.
A tiny juvenile Chinook salmon in a viewfinder in the Lower Fraser River.

Chinook salmon exhibit long-term rearing and early marine growth in the Fraser River, B.C., a large urban estuary

Using tiny salmon ear bones, or otoliths, Raincoast researchers and partners were able to demonstrate that Chinook salmon from Harrison River rely on the Fraser estuary for one to two months while they feed and grow. These findings underscore the critical nature of this habitat for the persistence and recovery of Chinook salmon…