The Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in First Nations are currently developing a pilot program, to be implemented and evaluated in 2019, with input from the First Nations Emergency Services Society (FNESS), BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (BC MFLNRORD) and the BC Wildfire Service, consulting Professional Foresters and Indigenous fire management experts. This project will develop, implement and evaluate a traditional fire management program for Tsilhqot’in title lands and the Dasiqox Tribal Park area in central British Columbia. With the first declaration of Aboriginal title, and asserted claims to the Dasiqox Tribal Park area, the Tsilhqot’in want to actively manage these areas for fire, which devastated much of the region in 2017.
Context & Purpose
The frequency and intensity of catastrophic wildfire is increasing across Canada and the unprecedented mega fires across British Columbia in 2017 are a dramatic example. In the summer of 2017, British Columbia (B.C.) experienced one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in the Province's history. Among these wildfire events was the largest wildfire ever recorded in B.C., which burned over 500,000 hectares in the Chilcotin Plateau. The homes of the 250 Yunesit’in community members were successfully defended against the fire by First Nation and BC Wildfire crews; however, the risk of catastrophic wildfire remains within Tsilhqot’in territory.
Historically, many Indigenous communities in British Columbia managed their traditional territories for wildfire. The legacy of fire suppression since colonization forced many Indigenous communities to discontinue their traditional practices; however, recent public inquiries have called on the government to empower First Nations to take a leadership role in fire management once again. Bringing back early season fire management, by combining western science with revitalized traditional knowledge and practices, could help reduce the risks to Indigenous communities in British Columbia and across Canada.
Revitalization of Indigenous fire management practices has been tested and proven effective in parts of Australia and lessons learned from developing and implementing such programs could inform Indigenous fire management programs in Tsilhqot’in territory.
PHASE 1: Evaluating the community's needs (November 2017)
In November 2017, workshops were conducted to measure support for this proposal and to identify decisive community actors among the Yunesit'in and Xeni Gwet'in Nations who can lead this project. Objectives and key milestones were developed with the stakeholders and set in motion the writing of a formal proposal.
PHASE 2: Build local understanding of Fire Management programs (November 2018)
Two workshops were organized by Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in First Nations and Gathering Voices Society in November 2018 to inform development of the pilot program. The workshops were attended by more than 50 participants, including community members, representatives from FNESS, BC MFLNRORD and the BC Wildfire Service and consulting Professional Foresters. An Indigenous fire management expert from Australia, with experience building interagency cooperation across the country, attended both workshops to share his experience developing similar programs across Australia.
Phase 3: Implement a pilot study (April - September 2019)
Guided by Indigenous Australian fire management experts, Canadian fire scientists, and local knowledge keepers, GVS will facilitate three pilot burns on Tsilhqot’in territory, in April, June and September.
Phase 4: evaluation (fall 2019)
Results from the summer 2019 pilot burns will be evaluated against baseline wildfire data and community objectives.
PHASE 5: Develop a recognized carbon credit framework (2020)
The next phase is to develop a recognized carbon methodology, to measure carbon emissions and make carbon credits available for sale under the Verified Carbon Standard.
Phase 6: Implement Traditional Wildfire Management Program at broader scales (2020)
If successful, the program would be designed and implemented at commercial scales on the territory, and the results would be evaluated.
PHASE 7: DOCUMENT THE PROJECT AND share with the broader public (2020)
Finally, the results of the project will be shared with local stakeholders during information sessions and will be made available on GVS online platform.
For more information, please find attached a project 2-pager:
Revitalizing Traditional Fire Management in Tsilhqot'in Territory
 See: Abbott, G. and G. Chapman (April 30, 2018) Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia. Report and findings of the BC Flood and Wildfire Review: an independent review examining the 2017 flood and wildfire seasons.