British Columbia

First Nation proposes ecosystem fee in Tofino to reinvest tourism profits back into the land

The mayor of Tofino says an ecosystem fee charged to visitors of the area would fund the work being done by a local First Nation to preserve the land.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation wants businesses to charge customers an extra 1-2%

Saya Masso, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation's natural resources manager, says many people aren't aware of the guardian programs that protect the natural environment around Tofino, which is a draw for tourists from around the world.

Tofino's mayor says an ecosystem fee proposed by local First Nations would direct the profits of the tourism industry toward maintaining the land.

Josie Osborne says visitors to Tofino are able to take advantage of activities like whale watching and beach walks thanks to the stewardship of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

The Tla-o-qui-aht is now proposing that businesses include an extra charge of one to two per cent for customers.

"[The ecosystem service fee] would help them to reinvest back in their territory and into their programs and services that they undertake to provide this incredible place where we are lucky enough to do our businesses," Osborne said.

She says implementing the fee would partly meet the call to action to the corporate sector from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"It's not just we, the latecomers to this place, that are here," said Osborne. "There's a much deeper sense of responsibility toward the land and the people and the waters and the fish and the trees and everything that's here."

Funding for ecological work

Saya Masso, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation's natural resources manager, says the fee is about recognizing the guardian programs run for drinking water, clean air, fisheries and forestry activities outside of Tofino's municipal boundaries.

"A lot of businesses were unaware of all the services that our guardians provide already and all the lack of funding that we have to recover all the habitats that we want," said Masso.

The money from the ecosystem fee could fund salmon-habitat enhancement, cultural revitalization programs and other services for the community.

"We have no bus service for our members in our community to get to work in Tofino, yet tourists have a free bus in the summer," said Masso. "We'd like to have that service provided for our community."

Both Osborne and Masso are optimistic about the business community's response to the proposed fee.

"I think that businesses feel like they can contribute a fee and it doesn't go so much to Victoria, Ottawa or to LNG projects that they may not agree with," said Masso. "They're going to see it in long houses being built, in sewage and better environmental stewardship in this area here."

A working group has been started by the Tla-o-qui-aht to discuss the details of how the fee could be implemented.

"I think this is probably the most important part of it — this dialogue and this process of learning about each other," Osborne said.

With files from CBC's On The Island