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Emerald Edge: Old Growth Forest Injects New Life into Conservation


Justin Adams

Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance (seconded to the TFA from The Nature Conservancy)

June 2015

The author, Justin Adams, in Clayoquot Sound. Photo © Molly Wallace
The author, Justin Adams, in Clayoquot Sound. Photo © Molly Wallace

It can be hard to define what connects us to particular landscapes. We can be born in them, we can choose to make our homes in them, or we may just be passing through. Yet we can all feel love for a place.

Imagine then what it is to live in your ancestral homeland, where your sense of belonging is visceral and sacred. Your identity can be bound in those land and waters, and it makes sense that you’ll be best placed to steward those resources for the generations still to come. In many places around the world, The Nature Conservancy partners closely with indigenous communities like these, working together on a sustainable development agenda that benefits people, nature and the climate.

A vital wilderness

Take a look at the Conservancy’s Emerald Edge program, a hugely ambitious effort to conserve a 100-million-acre band of emerald forest and vibrant ocean. It breathes life along a quarter of the North American coastline: from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, up the coast of British Columbia into the southeast panhandle of Alaska.

Emerald Edge is the world’s largest intact coastal rainforest, producing 50% of all the wild Pacific salmon in North America, and the Great Bear Rainforest, which the Conservancy helped protect in 2003, is a 21-million-acre jewel that sits at the heart of this project.

The land here is wild. As soon as you step into the deep green old-growth forest on Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound, its vitality envelops you. Life is abundant, supported by the warm ocean currents, healthy ecosystems and of course, plenty of rainfall.

But as one just passing through, it was only in spending time with the First Nation people who live there that I was able to glimpse its true splendor.

An aerial view of Clayoquot Sound. Photo © Molly Wallace
An aerial view of Clayoquot Sound. Photo © Molly Wallace

Balancing creation and consumption

I met with representatives of the the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation who live on Vancouver Island. We talked about their relationship with their ancestral lands and explored how the Conservancy could work with them to support their decision-making authority and land stewardship in an effort to promote their sustainable development.

The Tla-o-qui-aht, like many indigenous communities around the world, have a deep connection to nature and rely on it for their economic, spiritual, cultural and physical well-being. Because these communities never signed treaties with the Canadian government, their legal land status remains ambiguous.

Despite this, the Tla-o-qui-aht established a Tribal Park to “re-establish a healthy integration of economy and environment in which there is a balance of creation and consumption and a continual investment in biological and economic diversity.”

In many ways, Tribal Parks such as these represent First Nations’ visions for sustainable management of their lands. It is a vision with power. Community representative Tsimka Martin believes that Tribal Parks can become “a way to start to heal our people.”

Respect and partnership

Supporting land rights and decision-making authority for local and indigenous communities can be a crucial element in ensuring sustainable livelihoods and achieving broader sustainable development goals.

This is why we are working with the Emerald Edge program to pilot the Conservancy’s newly developed guidelines on conservation and the rights of indigenous communities. These guidelines were informed by principles of partnership with First Nations that the Conservancy’s Canada program developed last year.

Using these principles, the Conservancy and First Nations—including the Tla-o-qui-aht—have formed a partnership in this region that aims to strengthen local jurisdiction over resource decision making. Together, we are creating a stewardship endowment that will help put people who have called this place home for generations in the position of ensuring it provides for future generations.

The partnership also seeks to ensure local benefits from both land use and land protection—by changing provincial land tenure to create community-managed forests and protected areas that honor traditional use and the need for sustainable local businesses such as ecotourism.

It is in glimpsing the vision of those who have lived, loved and worked on their land for generations that we can see the true splendor of a landscape.

At The Nature Conservancy, we are aiming to help conserve more land by 2020 than we have over our entire history. But—as embodied by Emerald Edge—these outcomes and impact will go well beyond a simple measure of acres saved.

Originally Posted on Conservancy Talk

June 30, 2015