Chloe O’Loughlin: B.C.'s Atlin-Taku could be ark for biodiversity during climate change

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      By Chloe O’Loughlin

      B.C.’s Atlin-Taku—a breathtakingly large, almost-intact wilderness on the Pacific coast of North America—is a hot topic in the environmental movement. Why? The provincial government will soon decide how much of this northern wonderland to protect. This decision, in early 2010, will have far-reaching implications—for British Columbia’s plants and animals and Canada’s environmental contributions to the planet.

      The Atlin-Taku could be one of the world’s great “arks” for biodiversity. Untouched, it could act as a magnet for species during climate change. With high mountains and low valleys and everything in between, its landscape could shelter B.C.’s travelling species and those not wiped out by the warming weather. Large, intact, connected ecosystems or arks, like this Atlin-Taku landscape, are rare.

      Creating an ark for nature in the Atlin-Taku is certainly a seductive thought for a government hoping to secure a green reputation. But throw money into the equation and protecting the Atlin-Taku gets even more interesting. Last month, the United Nations issued a report stating that protecting biodiversity is worth “trillions” worldwide.

      The Atlin-Taku, as part of Canada’s boreal forest, is exactly the type of biodiversity considered a wise, money-making investment by the United Nations. It soaks up carbon, allowing B.C. to meet climate change commitments. The mighty Taku River, running through this landscape, supports as many as two million salmon each year. This is a healthy salmon river, at the heart of its watershed ecosystem, that feeds bears and countless creatures throughout its food chain. If kept intact, this Taku River will provide salmon for B.C. First Nations and others in perpetuity.

      Alongside these provocative ideas of protecting biodiversity and making money, the B.C. government must also consider their “New Relationship” with First Nations—one based on respectful and meaningful negotiations. The Taku River Tlingit, a large First Nation for whom this is traditional territory, want half of the Atlin-Taku protected from heavy industry.

      It’s a vision shared by environmentalists. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society recently looked at protecting the Atlin-Taku in light of climate change, to make sure the areas protected will be large enough to protect biodiversity into B.C.’s warmer future. We identified representative ecosystems—high, flat, dissected, north, south, dry, wet, rare, clustered. The more of these ecosystems we protect, the greater should be the area’s future biodiversity, even after these ecosystems shift and reassemble during climate change. With this climate science now complete, our organization recommends over 60 percent of the Atlin-Taku landscape receive protection. This recommendation is in the same ballpark as the Taku River Tlingit’s proposal for over 50 percent protection.

      Keeping much of this place wild is smart planning. Protecting large, meaningful areas of the Atlin-Taku would be financially prudent, environmentally responsible, and politically important with the province’s First Nations.

      We urge Premier Gordon Campbell and his government to create protected areas of true consequence in the Atlin-Taku. British Columbia needs arks for its plants and animals and the forward-thinking economic investments to secure a healthy financial future for the province. British Columbia needs healthy salmon rivers, not constantly troubled ones like the once-mighty Fraser. We need a land-use plan in the Atlin-Taku that will protect, not squander, our natural riches.

      The Taku River Tlingit have a vision of a healthy landscape that supports and inspires their people forever. It’s a vision that the B.C. government needs to embrace, as they formalize the future of this important ark for nature.

      Chloe O’Loughlin is the executive director of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.



      Katherine Gee

      Mar 18, 2010 at 9:05am

      I'm assuming we're going to get to a point one day where we don't always have to struggle to protect regions such as the Atlin-Taku - it seems every few months there's another one up for being destroyed by industrial interests.
      We really need to create a charter of ecological rights which would forever protect these regions from ever being considered being "used" for mineral, forest, natural gas, oil and any other industrial "needs".

      Thanks so much CPAWS for your tireless efforts to preserve what belongs to us all, forever!
      Please tell the public how they can get involved, aside from letter writing.

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