Inadequate funding and lack of coordination: report finds $91.6 million spent over 10 years for salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River

Report published today outlines a path ahead for more equitable, sustainable, and coordinated funding for Lower Fraser salmon.

The Funding Landscape report cover floats beside salmon working their way along the floor of the Lower Fraser River.
Photo by April Bencze.

VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES — September 13, 2022

Research published today by Raincoast Conservation Foundation provides a quantitative baseline, or funding landscape, for the scale of resources invested in salmon habitat restoration in the Lower Fraser region from 2009 to 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing economic variability. 

The researchers found that over $91.6 million was invested in 482 projects that predominantly benefitted the recovery of salmon populations over the ten-year period. Yet, they also determined that investments were often not publicly accessible, uncoordinated, and inequitably distributed to Indigenous Nations or other marginalized communities. 

Notably, of the $91.6 million invested in salmon habitat and conservation projects, only $18 million, or 20%, was provided to Indigenous Nations or Indigenous-led organizations as either direct recipients or grant partners. Further, only 8.3%, or 37 projects out of the total 482, had Indigenous Nations or Indigenous-led organizations as project leads (Figure 1). 

Another gap identified by the report is that no federal funding programs explicitly required, or provided resources for, post-project monitoring during the study period.

“Considering the scale of habitat compensation, mitigation, and offsetting projects that were implemented from 2009 to 2019, a lack of post-project monitoring limits our ability to measure whether restored or created habitats survive over the long-term,” said Kristen Walters, Raincoast biologist and Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program Coordinator. 

This discrepancy in the distribution of funding, coupled with an inadequate scale of resources, may indicate that not enough is being done to restore salmon habitat in the region. 

Research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology recommends implementing an integrated habitat strategy in the Lower Fraser at a proposed cost of $20 million per year for 25 consecutive years to recover 14 Fraser River populations of salmon. An investment of $40 million per year for 25 years would increase the recovery to 17 populations. 

While $40 million per year may seem like a high sum, investments south of the border provide a helpful perspective. In Washington State, federal and state governments invested $1.3 billion USD in salmon recovery across 8 watersheds over 20 years from 1999 to 2020. Broken down by project type, this equals $557 million provided for habitat restoration, $242 million for planning and assessment, $221 for habitat acquisition, $89 million for monitoring, and $26 million for capacity-building.

The restoration and conservation funding landscape of the Lower Fraser River builds off of Raincoast’s 2020 report, Towards a vision for salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River, which researched and gathered community input into a vision for salmon in the Lower Fraser region. The report included a recommendation to increase funding for collaborative conservation and restoration efforts, and to prioritize funding for Indigenous-led restoration and conservation initiatives.

“Ultimately our goal is that this new report can be a useful tool for funders and grant recipients to help shape a more equitable, sustainable, and coordinated effort when it comes to funding habitat restoration and conservation in the region and across the province,” added Walters. 

“The Lower Fraser River and estuary is one of the most ecologically important ecosystems in Western Canada for Pacific salmonids, yet it is also one of the most vulnerable. From extensive habitat loss due to industrialization, urbanization, agriculture use, and pollution, this important salmon system and its tributaries face significant challenges from a multitude of angles,” said Dave Scott, PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia and the Lower Fraser Research and Restoration Coordinator at Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The authors conclude the research with a series of recommendations to help guide investors. These include: making funding data publicly available in a centralized database, increasing the scale of funding available for staff capacity, transitioning towards a community-informed approach, and establishing an overarching management plan for the Lower Fraser River and estuary.