Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (SXFN), southwest of Williams Lake, is undertaking a cumulative impact study, which Chief Hank Adam said will be their story about how the natural world lets us know something is wrong.
According to an SXFN news release, a first glance of the semi-remote area where the two communities are located near the Fraser River surrounded by creeks and snow-capped mountains can appear pristine and intact.
However, the release noted looks can be deceiving as wildfires tore through SXFN territory in 2010 and 2018, leaving burned trees and open landscapes in its wake. Combined with aggressive logging and rapid climate change, severe flooding and slides occurred in the spring and fall of 2020, damaging community roads and infrastructure.
The study — SXFN’s contribution agreement is for up to $200,000 — is funded by Natural Resources Canada’s Terrestrial Cumulative Effects Initiative (TCEI) funding stream, and aims to address specific concerns about the Trans Mountain Expansion project’s cumulative effects on inland environment such as air quality, fish habitat, wildlife and the contribution of climate change.
“In addition to environmental impacts, climate change has the potential to change the cultural and social fabric of our way of life,” Adam said.
“While we see the impacts on the physical environment, it sometimes takes a while longer to see other more subtle sociocultural impacts.”
As critical habitat for wildlife such as moose and bighorn sheep is lost, SXFN will be adversely affected by the potential loss of bioregional resources, Adam added.
“The 2019 Big Bar landslide was a wake-up call,” he said.
“Our communities and our members must know everything that’s happening in our territory so that as a nation, we can begin to address a proactive approach to addressing impacts that continue to allow us to remain sustainable and prepare our nation to move forward in changing times.”
Spearheaded by SXFN Stewardship Department, the study will take approximately 18 months to complete. It will draw on the outside expertise of people such as German environmental scientist professor Dr. Ing. Karsten Runge, who specializes in the impacts of developments and climate change on ecology, as well as U.S. environmental sociologists Dr. Duane Gill and Liesel Richie, who will develop a framework to gauge sociocultural impacts and explore ways to maintain social sustainability through management and monitoring.