While I was already interested in the University of Northern British Columbia, part of what sealed the deal for me was the project that was presented to me should I decide to attend UNBC – conservation planning work in collaboration with the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation. This opportunity was a chance to marry several of my interests in a single project: conservation, planning, mapping, and Indigenous studies. The goal of my work is to identify areas of the Nation’s territory with the highest ecological value, which in turn will help the Nation make decisions on where to conserve land for its natural value and where to allow industry.
As Tsay Keh Dene Nation is the foundation of this project, I am collaborating with both them and their wholly owned environmental research and consulting firm, Chu Cho Environmental. Together we are working to interweave the Nation’s values and knowledge into the otherwise Western science-based approach I am using, known as systematic conservation planning. We first set out to articulate conservation goals for the territory, then sought to identify which features on the landscape represented those goals. For example, we included caribou and grizzly bear habitat because they each represent large, intact landscapes while also being culturally valuable species to the Tsay Keh Dene.
Another example is refugia areas, or areas that are predicted to be relatively unaffected by climate change and continue to serve as key habitat for wildlife. Using special conservation prioritization tools, we can identify where the greatest concentrations of our conservation features occur, as well as determine which portions of the landscape hold the greatest conservation value today, in the future, and most importantly – where they overlap. This project is unique in that it not only includes data sourced from Indigenous knowledge, but was initiated by Tsay Keh Dene Nation and seeks to further their goals.
Interweaving traditional ecological knowledge on the location of things like medicinal plants, fishing holes, and wildlife habitat paired with Nation influence on each stage of the process make this a truly collaborative project. This inclusive approach should provide meaningful results for Tsay Keh Dene Nation as they make land use decisions in their territory – whether that be where to allow timber harvest, or how to proceed in establishing a massive conservation area in the Ingenika River valley. You can watch a stunning video on the Ingenika Indigenous conservation and management area here.