Blueberry River is overrun with development

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016 5:55pm

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By Andrea Smith
Windspeaker Contributor
Blueberry River First Nation, B.C.

The Blueberry River First Nation now has substantial evidence their traditional territory is being infringed upon.

In fact, it’s being more than infringed upon, according to a report released by the First Nation, with help from the David Suzuki Foundation, and EcoTrust Canada.

The three parties worked together to develop The Atlas of Cumulative Landscape Disturbance, and uncovered disturbing statistics about the commercial use of Blueberry River First Nation’s traditional lands.

The most significant finding is that 84 per cent of their territory is currently impacted by industrial activity of some kind.

“Elders and land users give me daily reports of continuing damage to our lands and water… Development has extinguished our traditional way of life on wide areas of our land," said Chief of Blueberry River, Marvin Yahey.

“Fracking, forestry, roads and other development is pushing us further and further to the edges of our territory and we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights in the places we’ve always known,” he said.

The Disturbance Atlas is as a follow-up report to a 2012 Disturbance Atlas. The 2012 report also found significant damage was being done to BRFN territory, so the Nation requested assistance from the B.C. government on the matter, in a variety of forms including a cumulative impact assessment in 2014.

But according to Yahey, pleas were not heard, and the 2016 report supports his sentiment.

The data in the report shows that since that 2012 report was published, more than 2,600 oil and gas wells have been approved by the government of B.C. to develop within BRFN territory, along with 1,884 of petroleum access roads and permanent roads, 740 km of petroleum development roads, 1,500 km of new pipelines and 9,400 km of seismic lines.

“Despite raising these concerns directly with the premier and with provincial ministers, there has been no meaningful response to this critical threat. Instead, the province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory, including major fracking operations and the Site C Dam, willfully ignoring that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction,” he said.

More significant findings from the new report include:

* 75 per cent of the entire BRFN area territory is within 250 metres of some kind of industrial disturbance, while over 80 per cent  is within 500 metres.

* Active petroleum and natural gas tenures—an agreement with the government which gives oil and gas companies the right to explore areas with further development in mind—cover nearly 70 per cent of BRFN traditional territory.

* Linear features such as roadways and pipelines, has reached beyond 10,000 km in total, and exceeds a level which can co-exist with wildlife sustainably.

* Of the total area in B.C. reserved for pipelines through oil and gas tenures, 46 per cent sits on BRFN land.

* Nearly 200,000 hectares of BRFN’s traditional territory has been logged since 1950.

* And, 60 per cent of B.C.’s natural forest landscape is still intact, less than 14 per cent of  natural landscape remains in BRFN.

The Nation has even launched a lawsuit against the government of B.C. In March 2015, they launched a suit in the B.C. Supreme Court over the breach of their rights under Treaty 8. They stated the B.C. government was not protecting their territory and upholding treaty rights, but instead was allowing the oil and gas, and logging industry to exploit their land.

Their latest move—efforts now being put forth after seeing findings from the new report—is the creation of a Land Stewardship Framework. BRFN will use it to better assess the environmental issues facing them, and to develop a plan to restore territory, rehabilitate wildlife, and ensure sustainable development in the future—despite not having government assistance at this time.

“The findings of the 2016 report clearly show that even though the provincial government had  clear notice of the scale of harm that existed, including those found in the 2012 Atlas, it has worked to make the problem worse, not better,” said Chief Yahey.

BRFN did receive a statement of support from Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation the day after the report was released, however. Rustad openly declared his concern for the environmental issues impacting BRFN and acknowledged the government would need to act fast in order to help.

 “As the 2016 Disturbance Atlas shows, the situation in Blueberry River territory is severe and requires an urgent response. The province has acknowledged it will take years to complete their regional assessment. Blueberry River cannot wait that long… Otherwise there will be nothing left for us by the time the regional assessment reaches the same conclusion we have reached for years: there is a serious problem and immediate protection measures must be put in place...”