British Columbia

Natural gas deal fuels salmon restoration in First Nation waters

A financial deal between the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and a natural gas exporter is allowing a decades old salmon renewal plan to go ahead, according to Huu-ay-aht Chief Coun. Robert J. Dennis, Sr.

Renewal project aims to restore depleted salmon spawning areas and juvenile salmon habitats in key waterways

Chief Coun. Robert J. Dennis Sr. looks over the work environmental consultant LGL has carried out as part of the watershed renewal project in Huu-ay-aht territory. At this site, conservationists removed an old bridge, recreating the natural flow of the stream in the Sarita River. (Heather Thomson Huu-ay-aht Nation)

A financial deal between the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and a natural gas exporter is allowing a decades-old salmon renewal plan to go ahead, according to Huu-ay-aht Chief Coun. Robert J. Dennis Sr.

The Sarita and Pachena Watershed Renewal project aims to restore depleted salmon spawning areas and juvenile salmon habitats in key waterways on Huu-ay-aht Nations' territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The project is projected to cost $150 million over the next 25 years and most of this funding will be provided by Steelhead LNG, a Vancouver-based energy company that plans to create a liquefied natural gas export facility on Huu-ay-aht lands, Dennis told Jason D'Souza, the host of CBC's All Points West.

Watershed stripped of chinook

Bringing back the chinook salmon population to the watershed has been a priority for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations since the 1990s when elders called on the nations to take urgent action, said Dennis.

Decades of commercial fishing and logging stripped the watershed of chinook and the necessary conditions for the salmon to spawn, he said.

Andrea Lucas and Amber Bowes work on fish counts in the watershed as part of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations salmon habitat renewal project (LGL Limited)

Bob Bocking is a senior biologist with LGL Ltd., an environmental consulting firm hired by the Huu-ay-aht Nations to develop the renewal plan.

Bocking said he was involved with early restoration work on Huu-ay-aht lands and waters in the 1990s but when provincial funding dried up, so did the watershed renewal work.

The Huu-ay-aht's Dennis said restoration work has depended on receiving intermittent grants over the years, but the Steelhead LNG funding agreement guarantees financial support for the watershed renewal each year, throughout the project's lifespan, ensuring stability.

Co-management agreement for export plant 

The original proposal for the facility, on Malahat Nation land on south Vancouver Island, was cancelled in 2017.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations then entered into a co-management agreement with Steelhead LNG giving the Huu-ay-aht a seat on the company's corporate board, and three seats on the six-person oversight board governing the new export facility project.

The facility, named Kwispaa LNG, is expected to cost $18 billion and the plan includes an underwater pipeline.

Concerns over the impact of LNG exports

Aaron Hill the executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society based in Victoria said in an email that he applauds the work of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations in restoring important salmon habitats.

Hill said the benefits of the watershed renewal project should be weighed against the environmental damage gas fracking may cause in other parts of the province.

According to Steelhead, natural gas for the proposed project would come from northeastern B.C. and possibly Alberta. 

Hill said that some opposition to the facility is based on concerns that the gas exported from the Steelhead LNG plant will be extracted from other watersheds in B.C., which could be damaged in the process.

Dennis said the Huu-ay-aht First Nations council is also worried about the impact of the LNG facility on local salmon habitats but the nations' co-management deal with Steelhead LNG will allow it to address any environmental concerns in direct partnership with the company. 

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it has not yet conducted an environmental assessment of the project, as it is still in the early stages.

With files from All Points West

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