The Mamalilikulla’s long journey home

News Feed
Saturday, September 24, 2022

By Stephanie Wood Photography by Taylor Roades This story was made possible in part by an award from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Storms have played a significant role in John Powell’s life. On Mamalilikulla territory, which spans small islands and inlets on the misty Pacific coast, the storms can be intense. The sky goes grey, the rain pelts sideways and the waves of the ocean surge in strong winds. Powell, the nation’s elected chief councillor, can remember being just five years old as his grandfather navigated a fishing boat in “the stormiest weather in November.” “I could stand on the counter and touch the water outside because we were leaning over so much — and [I remember] not being afraid, because of the faith I had in my grandfather,” he recalled. Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism Storms also played a role when the colonial government outlawed potlatches from 1885 to 1951. Indian Agent William Halliday broke up a potlatch at ‘Mimkwa̱mlis in 1921, arresting people for participating — regalia was stolen, and people feared being arrested as Halliday continued to monitor the territory. “They took to potlatching in the worst storms so that people couldn’t go there to interrupt them,” Powell, whose ancestral name is Winidi, said. He spent his early years on ‘Mimkwa̱mlis, or Village Island, where Mamalilikulla people lived for millennia. Then, when Powell was five, the entire community was forced to abandon their homes due to a lack of clean water, lack of infrastructure and children being taken away to residential school in nearby Alert Bay. Halliday also did not allocate the nation a reserve, so the Mamalilikulla slowly spread out to different urban areas and other reserves, becoming a nation with no home base for its people. Abandoned houses still stand today at ‘Mimkwa̱mlis facing the water, beaten by the rain. Also known as Village Island, ‘Mimkwa̱mlis means “village with rocks and island out front.” The last person living at ‘Mimkwa̱mlis left in 1972. Today it is used as a home base for the Mamalilikulla guardians to monitor and protect their territory. Now, Powell is determined to protect the land the Mamalilikulla were separated from and help people reconnect with it. Last November he led the nation in unilaterally declaring an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area at Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound), near ‘Mimkwa̱mlis. The 10,416-hectare protected area is just north of Vancouver Island and includes extremely rare shallow coral as well as salmon-bearing streams that support grizzlies and black bears. The protected area is roughly the size of Vancouver proper, and about 2,000 hectares of it protects the ocean.  Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal Indigenous protected areas in principle have existed as long as Indigenous Peoples have. But their recent iteration of being known as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, more commonly called IPCAs, goes back to 2018. That’s when the federally funded Indigenous Circle of Experts published a report on how Indigenous-led conservation could be undertaken and how that could help Canada reach its United Nations commitments on climate change and conservation. Indigenous Peoples lead conservation and stewardship within Indigenous protected areas, in accordance with their own priorities and laws. Since then, the idea has taken off. But there are more proposals coming from First Nations than the slow wheels of government can keep up with. Mamalilikulla First Nation didn’t wait for buy-in from other levels of government. Instead, they established the protected area according to their own laws and their constitutionally recognized Indigenous Rights. The nation invited the province and federal governments to join them in co-governance. Chief John Powell of the Mamalilikulla First Nation said establishing their protected area is “just the beginning” of reclaiming stewardship of their territory. In May, a group of Mamalilikulla went to Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (pronounced Gwat-ch-dala-lah / Nah-latch-dala-lah) to celebrate the IPCA declaration. For most people, it was their first time there.  They had hoped for sun, but the sky had other plans. They sang and danced in celebration as the rain fell, feet passing through the mud, mirroring their ancestors who potlatched in the harshest storms. “I’m happy. It fills my heart to see all of the support,” Powell told The Narwhal that day. “I know there’s a lot of work that still needs to happen. And I know that this is just the beginning. But I think it’s a good start.” Danielle Barnes (left) and Evie Barnes dance in their regalia around the fire, where many Mamalilikulla citizens were visiting this part of the territory for the first time. Bert Boucher (left) and Andy Puglas laugh at the rainy celebration, where people were all smiles despite the cold. Indigenous protected areas are ‘catching fire’ Mamalilikulla is part of a groundswell of Indigenous Nations declaring IPCAs based on their own sovereignty — not waiting for approval, but leaving the door open for colonial governments to get on board.  Powell said colonial governments will have to find a way to handle the wave of IPCA proposals coming their way as Indigenous Peoples look for ways to protect land faster than government bureaucracy often allows. “These IPCAs are not going away. They are the thing of the future,” he said. The Mamalilikulla protected area, declared last November, is over 10,00 hectares of land and ocean. The area is home to salmon, grizzlies and black bears. Starting with an investment of $25 million in Indigenous Guardians programs in 2017, the federal government has continued to make major investments in Indigenous-led conservation. It announced funding in 2019 through Canada’s Nature Fund to support the establishment of up to 27 Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and in 2021 announced $340 million in funding over five years to support Indigenous-led conservation through guardians programs and IPCAs. In the federal government’s 2021 budget, more than $166 million was allocated for IPCAs. Now, so many IPCA proposals and declarations are being announced that it’s hard to keep track of them. In June of this year, Kitasoo Xai’xais declared a 33.5-square-kilometre marine protected area. In 2021, after waiting for more than four years for provincial support, Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs unilaterally declared the Wilp Wii Litsxw Meziadin Indigenous Protected Area, encompassing 540 square kilometres of land and water.  Mamalilikulla’s protected area includes 2,000 hectares of ocean in Knight Inlet, where rare shallow coral live beneath the surface. Valérie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, said the idea of Indigenous protected areas “really is catching fire.” The initiative supports Indigenous-led conservation. There are half a billion square kilometres in proposed protected areas by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, according to Courtois. Courtois said that in the face of climate change impacts, including the wildfire that burnt down Lytton, B.C., during the 2021 heat dome, she thinks people are open to realizing “there’s a better way” of doing things. With Indigenous Peoples stewarding 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, Indigenous-led conservation is one such solution. “Even in cases of nations declaring them unilaterally, they’re never doing that just for their own purposes,” she said. “We’re doing this for the good of everybody.” Valérie Courtois said Canada has a responsibility to provide core funding to IPCAs to meet its conservation targets. Photo: Nadya Kwandibens The momentum is palpable, she said. In August, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative announced the launch of a First Nations National Guardians Network, which will connect guardians across the country and create a more streamlined process to access funds. According to Courtois, it’s the first program of its kind in the world. But the demand to launch IPCAs and guardians programs still “far outweighs what is available for funding,” Courtois said. She sees many more applications come in than current federal funding can support. If Canada increased its investment to provide the core funding needed to get programs off the ground, First Nations could then build out and generate their own revenue and access other funding, she argued. Courtois said Canada has a responsibility to support Indigenous protected areas since it has made international climate and conservation commitments, including protecting 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030 — a commitment that will be in the spotlight this December when Canada hosts a UN conference on biodiversity. Kevin Cranmer dried his drum by the fire and people warmed up with seafood chowder when more than 100 people gathered for the Mamalilikulla’s IPCA dedication ceremony, including representatives from the B.C. government. But the provincial and federal governments still haven’t formally recognized the protected area. If Canada did finance the ambitions of First Nations, the country would “far surpass any country globally, both in conservation achievements and the role of Indigenous Peoples within those conservation achievements,” she said. “We’re kicking ass when it comes to conservation.” The return on investment has been proven — a 2016 study looking at the Lutsel K’e Ni Hat’ni Dene and the Dehcho K’ehodi guardians programs in the Northwest Territories found that every dollar invested generated $2.50 in social, cultural, economic and environmental value. A 2017 study of the Coastal Guardians Watchmen programs found that every dollar invested generated $10 in returns. Discussions moving slowly with province and feds John Bones, advisor to the Mamalilikulla First Nation, said they wanted to minimize the possibility of the government controlling the agenda when they first began planning the protected area. “We were not going to take the usual approach of saying, ‘We want to do this and we need you to give us money so we can do it,’ ” he said.  Instead, they sought funding from Environment Funders Canada’s ocean collaborative to begin business planning, expand the Mamalilikulla Guardian Program that stewards the territory and build an IPCA framework first. John Bones said Mamalilikulla First Nation wanted to do things differently, retaining funding and creating an IPCA before seeking government support, rather than relying on government support in order to make it happen. Shortly before the nation declared the IPCA, in December 2021, the B.C. government began discussions about collaboration, but the nation had no luck getting the federal government to the table. Now, almost a year after the declaration and after lots of pushing, the federal government has begun tentative talks with the nation as well. The province and the nation signed a letter of intent to work together on collaborative management, but no formal agreement has been made with either level of government yet. The province still provided funding to the nation after they began their discussions, and the nation has applied for further funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support their monitoring. From there, they plan to apply for more third-party funding and find ways to generate their own revenue. They are exploring ideas like ecotourism and a permit system for companies and individuals operating on their land. Sarah Fraser, an assistant deputy minister of B.C.’s ministry of forests, attended the celebratory event in May.  “I’d like to really applaud the nation for taking this very bold initiative,” she said at the time. She didn’t use the term Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, but instead referenced the letter of intent signed by the nation and the province to work together. “I support the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala collaborative management project and look forward to seeing that work in progress,” she said. In an emailed statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada told The Narwhal the federal government “will continue to consult with the Mamalilikulla Nation and any impacted groups on potential protections within the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala site.” The department pointed out it has policies in place to mitigate fishing impacts on sensitive areas of the ocean floor, and that it has been working with First Nations including Mamalilikulla to develop a Marine Protected Area Network that would include the corals in the Hoeya Sill. This network has been in development since 2020, and the First Nation would like to see interim protections while the network is developed. In the emailed statement, the department said it is working with partners to advance “Indigenous-led area-based conservation” in marine areas and considering how IPCAs “might play a role in supporting mutual conservation objectives.” DFO support would be pivotal in offsetting fisheries impacts, nation says In Mamalilikulla territory, challenges range from plummeting salmon returns to landslides taking place on destabilized slopes damaged from logging — all long-term impacts of extractive industries. That’s why Powell wants the Mamalilikulla to reclaim stewardship of the area. “It’s evident we can’t count on the government to protect our best interests,” he said. “Government protects industry.” Powell said the nation wouldn’t stop all industry in the territory, but would ensure it is done more sustainably in accordance with Aweenak’ola, their law “to protect, to house, to feed and to defend all those from the lands, seas, skies and the sacred stories that connect us to them all.” Norma Louie dancing at the Mamalilikulla IPCA dedication ceremony. There is no time to waste because rare coral gardens, found nowhere in the world except the coast between Alaska and California, continue to be damaged by fisheries, Powell said. Knight Inlet is home to rare shallow corals that are typically found in deeper waters, such as primnoa pacifica, a soft and fleshy coral that can reach more than three metres in height. Corals and sea sponges filter ocean water and provide homes for crabs, rockfish, sea spiders and other sea life.  These living corals and sea sponges can easily be destroyed by prawn traps and their feeding can be impacted by climate change and sedimentation from nearby activity like fish farms. Mamalilikulla territory is home to rare shallow corals and sea sponges, like this dried cloud sponge at the Discovery Passages Aquarium in Campbell River, B.C. Cloud sponges are sensitive to being destroyed by prawn traps, and they dissolve as they come to the surface, making it hard to know how many are damaged. The Mamalilikulla First Nation appealed to the commercial prawn fishing sectors to voluntarily avoid the coral gardens in the IPCA this year, and some agreed. Bones remains hopeful the fishing sectors will be willing to talk to them about future fishing seasons.  Since Fisheries and Oceans Canada controls fisheries, Bones said the department’s willingness to come to the table or not is significant. He said he heard from the prawn fishing sector “if there’s something that’s really worth protecting, they want to protect it too.” Prawn fishing boats were in Hoeya Sound the same day the Mamalilikulla held their dedication event. The nation hopes to reach agreements with prawn and crab fisheries to stop fishing in rare coral gardens. Powell said they will continue to build the IPCA whether the government hops on board or not. The nation has heard it will take many months or even years to get some permits and protections in place, according to Powell. “We have to sometimes stand by our guns and just say ‘no, that’s not good enough,’ ” he said. “Two years from now is not good enough. Who knows what state those corals are going to be in?” Primnoa coral is normally found at great depths, but in Knight Inlet they live in shallow waters, making them very rare. These dried corals are at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C. The longer they wait to restore and protect the area, the greater chance it will pass a tipping point beyond repair, Powell said. The coral may disappear, the salmon may disappear, causing dependent species like grizzlies to suffer — a possibility he doesn’t want to imagine. It has always been about ‘home’ All of the ecological issues the Mamalilikulla are trying to fix in the new protected area are connected, Powell explained. Landslides caused by logging have smothered salmon-bearing streams. Since salmon numbers are low, grizzlies are starving. Since grizzlies aren’t catching salmon, the nutrients of salmon carcasses aren’t nourishing the forest and forest dwellers. This, in turn, impacts people’s health.  “The connection to the land, sea and sky into the supernatural ones was what kept our people healthy,” he said. That’s why it was so important for Powell to bring people to the territory in May. It was Mamalilikulla citizen Mae Flanders’ first time going to Gwaxdlala and Nalaxdlala, and she was one of the first people to dance there in a century. She felt “the love and the warmth” even in the cold. “It was beautiful,” she said. “It’s just so important for our people to get reconnected … We need our traditional learnings and teachings back.” (Left to Right) Pam Mountain, Carolyn Dawson, and Mae Flanders were some of the first people to dance on Mamalilikulla territory in 100 years at the IPCA dedication ceremony. “It was beautiful,” Flanders said. Another dancer, Carolyn Dawson, said it was her first time at Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala as well. She also joined a 2019 trip organized by the band office to ‘Mimkwa̱mlis and said both experiences were profound.  “Our people have been lost for a long time because we don’t have our home,” she said. “It’s nice that we’re actually able to put our feet down to where our ancestors once did.”  “I felt like I was connecting with all our ancestors.” Many people’s ancestors grew up on ‘Mimkwa̱mlis, which is close to the protected area, but they hadn’t been to the area themselves. One of Mamalilikulla First Nation’s goals is revitalizing people’s connection with their territory. Mamalilikulla Hereditary Chief Nah Kah Pun Kyim, or Amos Dawson, said it was his first time visiting the area. “I’m going to come back here,” he said with a big smile. He hopes to see cultural camps for youth take place in the protected area. Hereditary Chief Amos Dawson looks out the window onto part of Mamalilikulla territory he has never seen before, which is now protected by the nation’s IPCA. Chief Robert Joseph said at the heart of the IPCA declaration is the idea of Indigenous Peoples coming home. Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, hosted the May event. Joseph’s ancestral name is Kwankwanxwaligedzi-wakas and he is a hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation of the Kwakwaka’wakw, and he is a Kwak̓wala speaker. The Mamalilikulla are also Kwakwaka’wakw. Joseph said it was “profound” to witness the Mamalilikulla return to their land. He waited for a bowl of hot soup, wearing one of the bright rain ponchos Powell had provided. “It’s really inspirational, even with this heavy rain, the idea that we’re starting — at this point in our history — to come back home in a real way,” he said. “It’s all about — always has been about — home.” Andrew Puglas Jr. attended the event in May with his family, holding his son Gregory up to the window to let him watch the islands go by.  “I’m just happy to bring my son with me, show him this is where we’re from,” he said. Andrew Puglas Jr., who worked as a guardian for years, looks out towards ‘Mimkwa̱mlis with his son Gregory. Puglas wants to see more protection of Mamalilikulla territory. At the same time, the damage to the territory weighed heavily on him. He said he walked every creek in Knight Inlet as a guardian almost 10 years ago, and would see no fish. Like many other nations, he said the Mamalilikulla haven’t had access to salmon for years because of low returns, and he fears prawn and crab will go the same way. He wants to see the Mamalilikulla take the lead on protecting more land and water. “The environment is ruined, right from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the mountains,” he said. “We’ve got to protect our territory.” Sasha Perron (left) and Kevin Cranmer drum visitors into the Mamalilikulla’s IPCA dedication ceremony as people disembark from the boat. Elected Chief Councillor John Powell said the establishment of the IPCA is part of a longer path of healing for both the land and the Mamalilikulla. Powell said both the land and the people need time to heal from the trauma inflicted on them, but he sees it happening before his eyes. “It took a long time to get here, it’s going to take a long time to heal,” he said. “I look forward to the day where everybody is healthy. I’m planning to live to be about 150 so I hope I see it,” he said with a big smile. And when that time comes in another century or so, Powell said he’ll return to ‘Mimkwa̱mlis once more. “It’s where I intend to lay in my last days.”

By Stephanie Wood Photography by Taylor RoadesA coastal B.C. First Nation dispossessed from its land for decades by colonialism is part of a groundswell of Indigenous nations declaring protected areas based on their own sovereignty — and they’re not waiting around for colonial governments

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Are Police Helicopter Fleets Worth the Money?

This piece was published originally by Capital & Main. Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments have amassed among the largest helicopter units of any local law enforcement agencies in the world, costing city and county residents tens of millions of dollars each year for patrols that disproportionately hover over low income communities of color, according to government records. […]

This piece was published originally by Capital & Main. Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments have amassed among the largest helicopter units of any local law enforcement agencies in the world, costing city and county residents tens of millions of dollars each year for patrols that disproportionately hover over low income communities of color, according to government records. The helicopters have hovered for decades with little evidence of their necessity. The departments’ claims about the effectiveness of aerial patrols rely mainly on studies they conducted more than 50 years ago. Recent, comprehensive tests suggest no correlation between the use of aerial patrols and declines in crime rates, and that such patrols cost more than they’re worth in terms of benefits, according to a review of the research and interviews with experts.  A university research team is looking at whether the flights may be disrupting sleep and causing health problems, with disproportionate harms in low income Black and brown neighborhoods. And advocates like Beni Benitez, 22, are calling to shift funds out of helicopter units and into improving access to education, housing and other necessities. “Why is it that we’re still funding these systems that keep oppressing us, and hurting us and harming us, when the solution is investing in us?” he said.  When a Hughes Aircraft Company salesman pitched Los Angeles’ police and sheriffs on a “flying police car” in the mid-1960s, urban unrest, especially the Watts revolt in 1965, convinced both agencies to test frequent aerial patrols as a way to control racial justice protests by surveilling neighborhoods and coordinating officers on the ground. Los Angeles law enforcement agencies’ desire to test helicopters coincided with President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring a “war on crime” and setting aside money for local law enforcement agencies.  The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s rented three Hughes helicopters and obtained the biggest law enforcement grant ever awarded by the federal government to test patrols in 1966. The authors of the report on the pilot program, Project Sky Knight, claimed chopper surveillance could prevent crime and “multiply force” by making law enforcement visible and audible across wide swaths of the landscape. The LAPD conducted a similar federally funded test of helicopter patrols soon after, supported by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which also touted the benefits of aerial policing, including for reducing property crimes and increasing arrests.  Once effectiveness was “proven” by both agencies, Aviation Unit Chief Hugh MacDonald, who helped spearhead Sky Knight, retired from the sheriff’s department and joined Hughes Aircraft in using the reports to market helicopters to other law enforcement agencies, hundreds of which adopted the aircraft. The federal government continues to fund local law enforcement helicopter units. The Justice Department has given more than $2 million to such units since 2008. The Department of Defense has also donated more than 300 “demilitarized” helicopters, originally valued at $94 million overall, to sheriff’s, state police and highway patrol departments in 30 states since the 1990s.  Florida, Alabama, California, Tennessee and Texas sheriffs have received most of those helicopters. Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments now maintain at least 17 helicopters each and keep those choppers in the air for regular day and night patrols. This drawing of an aircraft hovering over residential areas topped a 1969 flyer distributed by activists in protest of proposals to build a helicopter landing site near Los Angeles’ Elysian Park. To this day, the LAPD’s Air Support Division defines its “functional objectives” based on the early study, according to its policy manual. The department also promotes the NASA study on its website.  But even if the findings weren’t outdated, they were likely inaccurate to begin with, experts said.  The federal government itself has acknowledged that “historically, the debate regarding the benefits and costs of airborne policing has been void of rigorous evaluation and empirical data,” according to the National Institute of Justice’s most recent review of law enforcement helicopter operations in 2012. Nicholas Shapiro, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor who is currently studying the health and climate impacts of law enforcement helicopters in Southern California, said, “There’s just huge logical leaps” in the early studies.  Shapiro’s research team identified fundamental problems with the crime predictions and comparisons underpinning the LAPD helicopter study, such as conflating increased arrests with prevented crime and comparing real crime rates to modeled predictions. The study’s authors also excluded data from 1965, when the Watts riots occurred, because they acknowledged this data would skew their results.  Elliot Framan, a researcher who worked on the 1970 study of LAPD’s helicopter program, said an updated review would be warranted. “Clearly, police procedures and equipment, much less the situation on the ground, have changed enormously,” he said. “A new study might be more effective and worthwhile.”  Paul Whitehead, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, agrees that the early studies were flawed. Whitehead was invited by the city of London, Ontario, Canada, to conduct a more recent study of helicopter patrol effectiveness in 2000.  The early studies had “very poor research designs,” Whitehead said, which “lead to serious questions about the validity of their findings.” Many were “done with the purpose of finding the evidence that helicopters improved policing. And everything was aimed at reaching that conclusion even before the first piece of data was collected,” he said.  As such, Whitehead sought to address those deficiencies in his own study, which remains the most comprehensive of its kind.  Whitehead found that helicopters did not reduce crime rates and, because they were so expensive to buy and operate, any cost savings that came from using them for patrols did not come close to equaling their expense.  “Do helicopter patrols reduce crime? The answer is no,” Whitehead said.  Since then, a more limited test in 2019 by four police districts in Sweden similarly found that helicopter patrols had no significant effect in deterring crime. As Los Angeles’ helicopter patrols persist, some residents are raising concerns that the flights may be disproportionately targeting Black and Latino neighborhoods, harming the mental and physical health of their residents.  Over the years, the LAPD has internally tracked limited data on its helicopter flights, and used that data, along with predictive policing algorithms, to plan hundreds of flights each month. The department flew more than 6,000 of these data-driven missions in 2021, which is a 30% increase since 2019. But many of the metrics the department documents replicate problems from its early study and appear to generate patrols mostly targeting low income communities of color. This use of data “provides a sort of technological veneer to reaffirm the kinds of policing practices they’ve already been historically engaged in,” said Andrea Miller, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies the relationship between technology and security. Miller said that when police departments like the LAPD use past crime data to predict future crimes and decide where to concentrate their patrols, it creates a cycle wherein the most policed communities continue to be overpoliced. Areas in South Los Angeles, including the 77th Street, Southwest and Newton police divisions that cover neighborhoods including Hyde Park, Crenshaw and Historic South Central, are among those most frequently patrolled by police helicopters and for the longest time, according to LAPD records.  Residents have noticed the persistence of these patrols.  Neighborhood associations have protested against law enforcement helicopters since the flights began in the 1960s, mainly because of air and noise pollution. At the time, Silver Lake residents thwarted the LAPD’s effort to build a heliport in Elysian Park. But by the 1980s, the police department built the world’s largest law enforcement helipad in downtown, allowing for today’s around-the-clock flights.  “I feel like I’ve never lived in a place where helicopters weren’t disturbing the peace,” said Tauheedah Shakur, 26. She grew up in South Los Angeles but recently moved to the Westlake neighborhood near MacArthur Park because of rising housing costs. Shakur said that helicopter noise and lights often wake her in the night, heightening her anxiety, which can cause panic attacks. She worries that police officers observing from the sky could someday mistake her for a threat.  “I’m just afraid that one day they’ll get trigger happy from the helicopter and shoot me in my community. These are constant things I worry about,” Shakur said. Concerns like those are what a team of researchers at UCLA are setting out to study.  Environmental scientist Nicholas Shapiro is examining whether Southern California’s law enforcement helicopters are disrupting sleep and negatively affecting mental and physical health, educational attainment and workplace performance.  Gina Poe, a UCLA neuroscientist specializing in sleep studies, and Kate McInerny, a UCLA student, are working with Shapiro to measure how loud the helicopters sound at different distances and altitudes. They will pair that sonic map with flight records to figure out how much the noise disturbs sleep in various neighborhoods.  The researchers are also studying whether there are racialized disparities in where agencies are concentrating patrols. Their preliminary analysis suggests patrols tend to fly more frequently over Black communities, for longer durations and at lower altitudes, which could have greater health effects. Although the Federal Aviation Administration typically regulates how low aircraft can fly, law enforcement helicopters are exempt from those restrictions and often hover below the altitudes permitted for other flights.  Flying low has caused at least one situation when helicopter noise prevented officers on the ground from hearing each other, with deadly consequences. In July 2021, LAPD officers in two separate cars responded to a call about a man with a knife. As the helicopter chopped overhead, the officers who arrived later couldn’t hear confirmation that the man was no longer armed and fatally shot him. The California Department of Justice is investigating the shooting. The LAPD did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions and said it was “unable to accommodate [our] request” for a ride-along on a helicopter flight. Capital and Main Kenneth Mejia, an accountant recently elected to oversee Los Angeles’ finances as city controller, said that in his new position he will audit the police department’s performance, with a focus on helicopter operations, because they are an expensive part of everyday life for Angelenos. Mejia said a proper audit of the helicopter unit would look at how funds are being spent and determine if any of that money could be better allocated to other services, departments, resources or assets, such as housing assistance, animal services or youth development. “Everyone wants to know, why do we have so many helicopters?” Mejia said. “Is that money being used efficiently? Effectively? Is crime going down? Are the helicopters actually doing something? If so, show us the numbers.” The police budget in Los Angeles is currently around $3.2 billion, almost half of the city’s discretionary funding and 30% of the entire budget. Costs include the initial purchase of helicopters and specialized software and equipment like cameras and searchlights. Then there are ongoing expenses like maintenance, insurance and fuel, as well as the costs of training and employing flight personnel and outfitting them in safety gear. High costs have led some agencies to scale back their helicopter operations in recent years. The police department in Kansas City, Missouri, was an early adopter that rapidly expanded its unit in the 1970s. But by 1995, the department reduced its aerial personnel from 30 to eight. And in 2001, it shrunk its fleet from seven to three helicopters. In Los Angeles, neither the police nor the sheriff’s department release their total helicopter budgets, and public city and county databases do not clearly identify expenses associated with aerial operations. But Capital & Main identified at least a portion of those costs by compiling city spending records. The LAPD’s helicopter unit cost at least $215 million over the last decade. The LAPD Air Support Division spent at least $27 million in 2021, including roughly $7 million for new helicopters and equipment, $5.2 million for maintenance, $3.6 million for parts, $1.5 million for labor, $1.3 million for fuel and at least $8.5 million in payroll, according to city records.  Since 2009, the LAPD has spent at least $43 million on helicopters, equipment and training. Some specialized equipment has also been donated by the Air Support Angels Foundation valued at $138,300 in 2022 and a total of almost $50,000 in the three years prior.  The city of Los Angeles also spent about $77 million on maintenance, $50 million on parts, $27 million on labor and $19 million on fuel for the LAPD’s helicopters between 2010 and 2021, according to city records. The Los Angeles City Council created a Youth Development Department in 2021, and funded it with $1.4 million. This year the council increased the budget to $2.5 million. That is roughly equal to the cost of fuel and infrared cameras for helicopter policing last year. Capital & Main requested budget and operations records from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Aero Bureau but the department did not provide them. In 2020, the Sheriff’s said that helicopter maintenance alone costs at least $23 million per year. The Sheriff’s total budget this year was $3.6 billion, but because its Aero Bureau is paid for through a “specialized and unallocated” account, it’s unclear how much of that is spent on helicopters.  The Aero Bureau has been accused of misspending in the past. In the 2010s, retired Sergeant Richard Gurr alleged that a $29 million Board of Supervisors-approved contract to update 12 helicopters included millions in overcharges and unnecessary equipment. Los Angeles County’s auditor-controller investigated this and other alleged improprieties in 2012 and found that most were unsubstantiated, although there were “weaknesses” in the bureau’s purchasing practices, such as a lack of competitive bidding for repair services.  Last year, the county audited the Sheriff’s Department and found that it failed to get permission before building a helicopter landing pad on private property near Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s home. Villanueva lost his reelection campaign and will be replaced by Robert Luna, a former Long Beach police chief.  The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department declined to respond to Capital & Main’s questions and requests for public records. Copyright Capital & Main

Ontario is about to slash environmental protections. It already wasn’t funding them, auditor general says

By Emma McIntosh and Fatima Syed As the Ford government readies to weaken environmental protections with its housing bill, Ontario’s auditor general finds the government is woefully mismanaging floods, the Niagara Escarpment and invasive species

By Emma McIntosh and Fatima Syed As Doug Ford’s government gets set to slash environmental protections, Ontario’s auditor general has found the province is already mismanaging them, from flood risks to protected land and invasive species. Earlier this week, the Ontario government passed development-friendly legislation that also gutted conservation authorities, agencies that oversee key watersheds and floodplains. It also stands to finalize a flurry of changes early next month, including opening parts of the protected Greenbelt for development and watering down protections for wetlands that mitigate floods, among other things. Scientists have told The Narwhal those changes will put Ontario at higher risk of flooding as green spaces and wetlands that absorb rain and snow are lost. The thing is, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk reported Wednesday, Ontario’s flood management practices are already underfunded and disorganized. The province is also failing to protect the Niagara Escarpment, an important and iconic green space in southern Ontario. It’s also doing little to stop the spread of invasive species, some of which are currently on sale at home improvement stores, Lysyk said. Taken together, Lysyk’s findings show a province that is under-resourcing and mismanaging environmental measures across the board — and has been for decades. Her report also highlights a severe lack of transparency in the government’s communication with both the auditor general’s office and the public about environment and energy issues. And as Ontario heads towards an energy supply crisis, she noted, the province is still missing a long-term energy plan.  We’re breaking news in Ontario The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling environment stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism. We’re breaking news in Ontario The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling environment stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism. “Funding and where money is allocated is a government choice,” Lysyk said. “It just needs to be transparent to people why those choices are being made.” In a media scrum after the report’s release, Environment Minister David Piccini was asked whether the province is trying to protect the environment at all. He insisted the answer is yes. “The government cares deeply,” Piccini said, adding a new climate plan is in the works. Ford’s team has only released one climate plan since coming to power in 2018, promising another for years. “Protecting the environment we depend on is not a concern for them … other than damage control when they get called out on it,” interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns told reporters. Many of the problems documented in the auditor general’s report stretch back many years, predating the Ford government. But they’ve continued under the Progressive Conservatives — and in some cases have gotten worse. Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report, published on Wednesday, includes several environmentally-themed audits. Photo: Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press Liberal MPP John Fraser admitted to reporters Wednesday his party “didn’t always get everything right as a government.” But, he said, “we did create the Greenbelt,” adding the current government isn’t being transparent enough with the public. Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the report shows the province as a whole needs to have “a complete rethink” about its long-term planning on environment and energy policies. “We know that the severity and frequency of extreme weather events is going to accelerate due to the climate crisis,” he told reporters. “The fact that they still don’t have a plan is reckless, it’s risky and it’s completely irresponsible.”  While the province is underfunding environmental measures, it’s yet to find money for its own pet projects as well, Lysyk found. The Bradford Bypass highway project is set to cost far more than expected, she reported, and Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation doesn’t have the money it needs to push forward the bypass or another key infrastructure promise, Highway 413. Here’s everything you need to know about the auditor general’s findings. Ontario’s proposed Bradford Bypass will cost more than expected, according to a report from the auditor general: her office estimates between $2 billion and $4 billion, far greater than the $800 million Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney stated in 2021. Photo: Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press The cost of Ontario’s Bradford Bypass has grown The Bradford Bypass will cost more than the Ontario government has disclosed publicly, Lysyk found in an audit of the province’s highway planning. Her office’s total estimated cost of the project, which would cut through the Holland Marsh section of Ontario’s Greenbelt, is between $2 billion and $4 billion. That’s far greater than the $800 million Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney told the public in 2021.  The auditor general’s estimated cost for Highway 413, meanwhile, is listed as “greater than $4 billion” — in line with what Mulroney has said, but lower than previous estimates from former Liberal transportation minister Steven Del Duca, who pegged it as between $6 billion and $10 billion.  Lysyk said it’s normal for estimates to evolve over time and the ones in the report are still rough, but that “the public has the right to know.”  As of August 2022, the transportation ministry hadn’t requested funding to actually build the 413 because it’s still being designed and is still under review from the federal Impact Assessment Agency, which is looking into how it might affect endangered species habitat. No construction can begin until the federal probe is done.  Even if Highway 413 is out of the equation, the ministry doesn’t have enough funding to accommodate its other priority highway projects, the auditor general found.  In a response included in the audit, the transportation ministry said it “agrees to take steps to implement the recommended action items” when government objectives clash with advice from bureaucrats. Ontario Environment Minister David Piccini told reporters that, despite the auditor general’s findings, the province “cares deeply” about the environment. Photo: Carlos Osorio / The Narwhal Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment isn’t properly protected The Niagara Escarpment is among the most defining natural features of southern Ontario. The portion of the rocky ridge that’s protected under provincial law starts at Niagara Falls, stretching around Lake Ontario and up to the Bruce Peninsula. Though the province’s protections end there, the landform itself goes on through Manitoulin Island before dipping into the United States. It’s beloved by hikers and climbers for its cliffs, caves, ancient trees and waterfalls, and crucial to the 70 species at risk living along it. The Ontario government created a plan to protect the escarpment, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, nearly 50 years ago. That included the creation of a Niagara Escarpment Commission aimed at overseeing efforts to steward the land. Today, the escarpment makes up part of Ontario’s Greenbelt.  But both the government and the commission are failing to actually protect the escarpment, Lysyk found. Nearly all development permits on the escarpment have been approved in the past five years. The province has allowed industry to create and expand pits and quarries for extracting aggregate — crushed stone and gravel used in construction — despite the harm they can cause to species and the ecosystem. The commission has cut environmental monitoring because Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry doesn’t give it enough funding for the staff or resources it needs: its budget has been cut four times since 1996, including once under the Ford government. The lone specialist tasked with environmental monitoring left in 2015 and hasn’t been replaced. The commission hasn’t tracked the cumulative impact of the more than 34,000 development permits it has issued since 1975, the auditor general said. Ontario’s auditor general found that nearly all development permits on the Niagara Escarpment have been approved in the past five years. Milton, Ont., has lost 22 per cent of its green spaces to development over the past 20 years. Photos: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal Over time, the Ford government and the previous Liberal government failed to enforce protections on the escarpment, the audit showed. Though reports of possible violations of the rules have climbed 82 per cent in the last five years, the government hasn’t charged anyone for doing so since 2014. Only 1.1 per cent of development permits on the escarpment have been denied, and in some cases the auditor general reviewed, applications were approved even if they clashed with environmental protection rules. Roughly a third of the 54 aggregate operations on the escarpment are also allowed to extract as much as they want, with no limits, Lysk found. The government has only inspected about a quarter of those sites within the last five years, and found two weren’t following the rules.  Though ministry staff recommended the previous Liberal government ban new aggregate extraction on the escarpment in 2017, that didn’t happen. Instead, that year, the Liberals changed the plan so applications for development on the escarpment can’t be denied solely because of endangered species habitat. The result, the audit found, is that 27 in a sample of 45 development permits from 2020 to 2021 involved harm to species at risk.  In a response included in the audit, the Niagara Escarpment Commission said it would continue to work with the province to secure funding. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry acknowledged “significant challenges” but didn’t commit to restoring that funding or making improvements.  Speaking to reporters, Natural Resources Minister Graydon Smith placed the blame for issues with the escarpment on the commission itself, an arms-length agency. But he said he’s “open to a conversation” about giving the commission more funding. Eugenia Falls in Ontario, along the Niagara Escarpment. The province hasn’t enforced its own rules aimed at protecting the escarpment for years, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has found. Photo: The Canadian Press Flood prevention and mitigation in Ontario is a mess The provincial government’s oversight of flood mitigation and prevention in cities is severely underfunded and disorganized, the auditor general found — which is concerning since the risk of flooding is set to increase as climate change fuels more intense rainfalls.  The report found Ontario isn’t doing enough to “reduce the risk of urban flooding, nor to provide homeowners, municipalities and other decision-makers the guidance and information they need to reduce their risks.” Lysyk considers it a problem that no one government ministry is responsible for urban flooding in the province. Four ministries — environment, natural resources, municipal affairs and infrastructure — are involved, and have never clarified or coordinated their roles in flood-risk management.  The audit noted this gappy system leaves Ontarians in major urban areas vulnerable to the worst impacts of flooding. These include an “ambiguous” building code that leaves buildings, particularly basements, prone to flood damage.  A flooded parking garage in Kingston, Ont., in 2011. Ontario’s management of flooding is underfunded and disorganized, the province’s auditor general found. Photo: Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press As well, Ontario’s towns and cities receive “contradictory” and “inconsistent” guidance and direction from the provincial government, Lysk said, and are still relying on outdated flood data that leave them unable to map urban flood risk areas. Municipalities also don’t have reliable funding for stormwater infrastructure from either the federal or provincial government.  Ontario’s auditor general also commented on Kashechewan First Nation: the community of 2,000 residents near James Bay experienced severe floodings four times in the last five years and has been evacuated three times, the total costs for which are not known. The audit highlighted how other First Nations communities in the region — which also experienced significant flooding in the past year and are accruing great costs for municipalities — are not getting the provincial support or funding they need. Meanwhile, Lysyk said, natural flood protections — like green spaces and wetlands that absorb precipitation — are rapidly being lost, which will make flood risk worse. By 2015, the province had lost nearly three-quarters of its wetlands. One problem is how infrequently the value and fragility of wetlands is assessed. Only 30 were evaluated in the past decade; only one has been evaluated in the past year. Lysyk noted that remaining wetlands are now at increased risk from development — the auditor general reported the government’s Bill 23, passed earlier this week, will weaken the evaluation system that assesses how proposed development could affect Ontario’s wetlands. The Ford government’s changes means wetlands will be evaluated individually, not as complexes that work together to absorb water and provide habitat for animals, including species at risk. This makes it likely that many small wetlands won’t be eligible for protection and, as the auditor general wrote, will damage Ontario’s “capacity to reduce flooding.” Green spaces in Ontario’s urban centres are also being lost to development due to “weak provincial land-use planning direction,” the report found. Over the past 20 years, Ontario’s biggest urban centres have lost six per cent of their green spaces, with the biggest losses in Windsor (18 per cent) and Milton (22 per cent). The audit directly links this to the Ford government’s growth plan, which “does not set specific targets or limits on the amount of green space” that can be developed.  The Garner Marsh in Hamilton, Ont. Natural green spaces like wetlands that mitigate floods are rapidly being lost in Ontario. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal “The province is well aware of the need to do more to address [flooding],” the auditor general’s report said, noting there have been four government reports and plans identifying a series of actions the government could take to alleviate the risk of urban flooding in the past four years — including the Ford government’s one and only environment plan, released in 2018. The commitments made in that plan — or any of the others — to mitigate flood risk haven’t been met, Lysyk wrote.  “Ontario is the only province without an organization that provides climate services to the decision-makers that need them,” she said. Ontario’s biggest power generator isn’t prepared for a likely energy shortfall The hydroelectricity produced by Ontario’s largest power generator has not been “effectively utilized” over the last seven years, the report found, with a significant shortfall in energy production, especially considering demand.  Between 2015 and 2021, Ontario Power Generation only used about half the capacity of its hydroelectric stations, Lysyk wrote, adding the company “has not conducted a detailed analysis of why there is a significant difference between installed capacity and actual generation.” Ontario Power Generation offered some explanation, listed in the audit. Under-production could be due to water issues, such as availability or conservation, or station-specific issues such as a mandate to run only during peak demand periods. Ontario Power Generation said maintenance requirements could also have been a problem: the report outlines concerns that about 20 per cent of the generator’s stations have not been assessed for maintenance in a decade or longer. Two of the largest stations, both built in the 1990s, have not been reviewed properly in 18 years.  Between 2015 and 2021, Ontario Power Generation only used about half the capacity of its hydroelectric stations, the auditor general found. Photo: Nic Redhead / Flickr The auditor general was also concerned “opportunities for developing Ontario’s future supply of hydroelectric power have not been fully explored” — an urgent issue as the province grapples with a projected energy supply shortage as nuclear plants are shut down for refurbishment or go offline entirely. Ontario Power Generation told the auditor general that building new hydroelectric stations in northern Ontario could take over 10 years. The Ford government has said it plans to increase the use of methane-intensive natural gas to make up for the shutdown of Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. In Wednesday’s report, the auditor general found the energy ministry has not yet developed a long-term plan that reconciles the province’s changing energy supply with emissions-reduction targets. The ministry told her this plan will be released in December 2023 Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said this report raises concerns about the reliability and cleanliness of Ontario’s grid as the province invests in the total electrification of transportation. “The government seems to be scrambling to overcome a supply shortage and they’re doing it in a way that will use gas plants that will increase climate pollution by three to four hundred per cent in our grid,” he said.  Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Graydon Smith, centre, told reporters Wednesday that he’s open to talking to the Niagara Escarpment Commission about its funding issues. Photo: Government of Ontario / Flickr Unchecked invasive species are causing billions of damage in Ontario every year Invasive species — like zebra mussels that suffocate native mussels, and reeds called phragmites that out-compete local wetland species — cause $3.6 billion of damage in Ontario every year. But the province spends just $4 million annually to combat them, and that relatively small amount is often delivered irregularly, making it hard for organizations working on the problem to retain staff.  “Because that amount isn’t nearly enough, invasive species spread without much resistance, and Ontario’s farms, forest, and fisheries, as well as its health care, tourism and recreation sectors suffer substantial harm,” the press release said.  The result: of all the provinces and territories, Ontario is at the highest risk of new invasive species being introduced, Lysyk found. It already has the most invasive species, with at least 441 invasive plants and 191 non-native species in the Great Lakes, a major international shipping route.  The problem is so extensive that Ontarians can buy several invasive plant species at garden centres and plant nurseries.  Zebra mussels, an invasive species, can choke native mussel species. They’re widespread on the Great Lakes. Photo: D. Jude, University of Michigan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory / Flickr Quagga mussels are another invasive species found on the Great Lakes. Invasive species cause $3.6 billion in damage in Ontario every year, the province’s auditor general found. Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory mussel watch program / Flickr “Though the people of Ontario understand the urgent need to act when a dangerous new threat emerges in the environment, the Ministry of Natural Resources acts far too slowly to take these threats seriously,” Lysyk said.  The ministry also lacks the staff it needs to enforce invasive species rules, according to the auditor general. Conservation officers aren’t properly trained to identify invasive species and rarely use their powers to crack down: in the last six years, conservation officers issued only 11 warnings and laid no charges for breaches of rules aimed at preventing the spread of invasive species. The stakes of this are high, Lysk said. Invasive species have already caused historic collapses of lake trout and late whitefish stocks on the Great Lakes — fish that feed both people and local economies.  In response, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said it would review its plan for tackling invasive species but didn’t offer specifics.  Ontario’s failure to address invasive species is well documented — Lysyk criticized this in her report last year. She was even harsher Wednesday, saying in a press release that “Ontario is losing the fight against invasive species because it’s barely trying.”

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!


sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.