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First Nations, Ottawa, B.C., announce $335M for protection off Great Bear coast

VANCOUVER — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is working with 17 First Nations in British Columbia as well as the provincial government to expand protection for marine ecosystems off the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest.

He says the initiative will add about 14,000 square kilometres of newly protected areas, while supporting sustainable development for the waters off the rainforest on B.C.’s central and northern coast.

The federal government is committing $200 million to the initiative, while the B.C. government is contributing $60 million and $75 million is coming from philanthropic investors, for a total of $335 million to create an ongoing fund.

The initiative builds on the Great Bear Rainforest model, which has protected large swaths of old-growth forests while supporting job creation and economic diversification for communities along the coast.

Chief Marilyn Slett from the Heiltsuk Nation on B.C.’s central coast says the funding will support First Nations’ conservation and community development plans.

She says the upfront capital announced at a news conference in Vancouver is expected to return more than $750 million over the next two decades.

“This is huge and exciting for the coast. These funds will support collaborative management of new marine protected areas, and will sustain jobs and careers in marine stewardship, conservation, research and monitoring — our essential work to restore and protect fish, wildlife and a healthy sea we all depend on.”

Slett was among the coastal First Nations representatives who joined Trudeau to celebrate the milestone.

A statement from Coast Funds, Coastal First Nations and the Nanwakolas Council says the Great Bear Sea, also known as the Northern Shelf Bioregion, extends from the north coast of Vancouver Island to Canada’s boundary with Alaska.

The groups describe the area as one of the richest and most productive cold-water marine ecoregions on Earth, home to an array of marine life including herring, salmon, seabirds, whales and kelp forests.

It’s also a source of food, culture and livelihood for Indigenous Peoples and “all who call the coast home,” the statement says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2024.

The Canadian Press