Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition unites loggers, farmers, miners against rampant LNG development

"We are often mistaken as environmentalists, but we are not fighting for the environment for the sake of the environment," said Dana Hibbard of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. "We are advocating for our economy and our community which depends upon a healthy environment." 

Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition with Tahltan Council at a traditional hunting camp

Dana Hibbard is the LNG Outreach and Education Coordinator of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. She lives in Hazelton BC, located on the Skeena River, approximately 250 km northeast of the coastal port city of Prince Rupert. The following interview was conducted by the Vancouver Observer’s Roger Annis in April 2014.

Q:  Could you tell us something of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition? 

Hibbard: Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition was formed around kitchen tables and campfires ten years ago over concerns about Shell’s plans to frack for natural gas in the Sacred Headwaters-the birthplace of three of Canada’s greatest wild salmon rivers--the Skeena, Nass and Stikine [See geographic notes below]. We have always believed that the people who live where development is being proposed should have a major role in the decision making process as they will be the ones to live with the consequences.

Our region celebrated a tremendous victory just over a year ago when Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest corporations on the planet, voluntarily gave up their tenure in the Sacred Headwaters.  We continue to work towards protection for this area and anticipate that 2014 could be the year that this becomes a reality [See SWCC 'Sacred Headwaters Campaign'].

Our watershed is currently facing an unprecedented number of development proposals, from the Headwaters to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean, this pristine watershed is being overwhelmed by a massive influx of industry.  Prior to any Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)  projects being proposed, there was already approximately $10 billion in construction of major industrial projects underway.

SWCC supports responsible development for our communities that doesn’t come at the cost of our wild salmon, steelhead, culture or our existing economy. 

Q: The Coalition represents people in communities across the BC northwest?

SWCC is comprised of a diverse group of people living and working in the Skeena Watershed--loggers, miners, farmers, guide outfitters and commercial, sport and recreational fishermen.  Despite our different backgrounds, we are united by a strong connection to our watershed. Our role is to empower the citizens of this region with education and outreach so they can make informed decisions.

This region has a strong history of hearing from all sides of an issue and making their minds up for themselves on what kind of development they do and do not want to see in their community. 

Q: Can you describe your work to protect salmon and other fish species?

We protect salmon and steelhead by protecting their habitat and by documenting where they spawn. We have several examples of documenting previously unknown runs of salmon and steelhead which then informed government and industry of critical salmon habitat areas. 

Q: Another huge development proposed for the north of BC are the plans to build a liquefied natural gas industry on the coast and feed it with fracked natural gas piped from the northeast. What are the concerns and where do these projects stand?

Our primary concerns are the pace and scale at which this development is being proposed, the incredible increase in fracking that would be required to feed these LNG pipelines, and the location of the proposed projects. This industry has not been previously developed in Canada and certainly not in a wild salmon ecosystem such as the Skeena. 

This gas comes from fracking which is an industry we have previously opposed in this watershed. LNG pipelines could potentially open up new areas to be fracked in our watershed that previously weren’t viable due to the lack of pipeline and other infrastructure.

There are two terminals proposed for the Skeena River Estuary, which is critical habitat for juvenile wild salmon and steelhead. The proposed pipeline routes would amount to an enormous linear disturbance to wilderness areas and would open up these pristine areas to further development. 

Petronas is proposing to build a terminal on Lelu Island [Prince Rupert], next to Flora Bank which is known as a salmon sanctuary.  All five species of wild salmon and steelhead that spawn in the Skeena River seek refuge in the eel grass habitat of Flora Bank.  When juvenile salmon and steelhead arrive at the Pacific, they are in a very fragile period of their life cycle. They are adjusting to salt water, ocean tides and new predators. Flora Bank is a refuge for the frye and smolts during this period of adjustment.

In 1973, a superport was proposed for the Skeena Estuary.  This proposal was rejected due to a Department of the Environment study that a project like this near Flora Bank would destroy much of this critical salmon habitat.  Why are we now forty years later considering building two

As we looked deeper, we began to realize that the potential adverse consequences of this industry go far beyond its environmental impacts and include severe social, economic and cultural impacts.

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