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The Texas City Where Mermaids Inspire River Conservation

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Thursday, April 6, 2023

“Aquamaids” were once the stars at an amusement park in San Marcos. Now, they are making a comeback to help the environment

“Aquamaids” were once the stars at an amusement park in San Marcos. Now, they are making a comeback to help the environment

“Aquamaids” were once the stars at an amusement park in San Marcos. Now, they are making a comeback to help the environment
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Mineral claims require First Nations consultation, B.C. Supreme Court rules

The decision transforms the province’s mineral rights regime, which previously allowed almost anyone to stake a claim in First Nations territory without a duty to consult or even notify them

First Nations in British Columbia must be consulted before any mineral claims are made in their territories, according to a decision released Tuesday by the B.C. Supreme Court. This spring, Gitxaała Nation and Ehattesaht First Nation argued in court that the current way of giving out rights to minerals is based on a “colonial holdover,” which allowed claims to be made in their territories without consultation.   “The court’s decision makes clear what we knew all along: B.C. owes a duty to consult Gitxaała and other Indigenous nations prior to granting mineral claims in our territories, and it is breaching that duty,” Gitxaała Chief Councillor Linda Innes said in a statement. The province’s current online system allows almost anyone to make a mineral claim. With a few clicks and a fee, certified individuals or companies can get the mineral rights to a plot of land. There is no duty to consult or notify First Nations if the mineral claim is in their territories before making the claim or exploring the area with handheld tools.  Without consultation, the process “causes adverse impacts upon areas of significant cultural and spiritual importance” to Gitxaała Nation and Ehattesaht First Nation, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross wrote in his written decision. The current process also affects the Nations’ rights “to own, and achieve the financial benefit from, the minerals within their asserted territories.” Ehattesaht First Nation and Gitxaała Nation started presenting their case against how the province gives away mineral rights in April, 2023. Indigenous leaders, First Nation members, lawyers and mining reform advocates marched to the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver with signs of support. Photo: Jimmy Jeong / The Narwhal The province now has an 18-month deadline to consult with First Nations and change the current process and include the duty to consult.  “While the court suspended its declaration for 18 months, the case demonstrates that immediate overhaul of B.C.’s mineral tenure regime is required,” Innes said. The case was also the first time courts considered the legal effect of the province’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). “Our position was … the court has a role in enforcing the application of the United Nations declaration,” Kasari Govender, B.C.’s human rights commissioner, told The Narwhal. The commissioner intervened in the case, meaning she could make legal arguments but was not involved in bringing the case forward.  However, Ross did not agree and found that the court does not have a role in enforcing the declaration act in relation to the issues brought forward in this case.  “This feels like a big disappointment and a step back,” Govender said. “When most of us saw that the declaration act was being brought into force here in B.C. we understood that to mean that UNDRIP was going to have real force and effect here in our laws and in our legal system.” Investigating problems. Exploring solutions The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism. Investigating problems. Exploring solutions The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism. Gitxaała expressed concern the court did not give stronger weight to the United Nations declaration. Despite that, “the status quo has profoundly shifted,” Gitxaała Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas (Matthew Hill) said in a statement.  The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said in an email it is still reviewing the 148-page decision and it is committed to modernizing the process “in alignment with” the United Nations declaration. No pause on existing, future mineral claims as nations await new process Gitxaała Nation and Ehattesaht First Nation also asked for multiple claims in their territories to be quashed. Across the province each year, approximately 5,000 to 6,000 new mineral claims are made, according to submissions from the province. The courts did not quash any claims or put a pause on any future claims. “We deeply regret that the court did not set aside the mineral claims we challenged in this case, and leaves our territory open for continued mineral claims staking without consultation for the time being,” Innes said. Dozens of claims were made in Ehattesaht territory, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, while the case made its way through the legal process. A claim was also made in Gitxaała territory on Lax k’naga dzol (Banks Island), south of Prince Rupert, during the hearings. While technically, claims can continue to be made over the next 18 months, “the landscape has totally changed as a result of this decision,” Gavin Smith, who was part of Gitxaała’s legal team, told The Narwhal. “Consent and recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction is going to be required in how mineral rights are being addressed. And anyone who’s trying to sneak in the door in the next 18 months is going to be prejudicing their interests over the long-term by ignoring nations’ jurisdiction of the territories,” Smith said. The pink shaded areas on the maps show areas with mineral claims. Lax k’naga dzol (Banks Island) in Gitxaała Territory (left) has more than 40 mineral claims on it. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal Ross’ decision recognized there are systemic issues in how claims are made in First Nations territories across the entire province. “There are many mineral claims throughout Gitanyow territory that are the result of the free entry system that have a lack of consent behind them,” said Naxginkw, Tara Marsden, a Gitanyow member from Wilp Gamlakyeltxw who has worked with local chiefs for many years.  Gitanyow homelands span 54,000 hectares in northwest British Columbia. Mineral claims have made it challenging to protect salmon habitat or use the land for purposes other than mining. Calls to change the Mineral Tenure Act, the legislation that guides how claims are given out in B.C., have gone back decades. “Now the province has the legal clarity that they claimed to have needed to actually act on this,” Marsden told The Narwhal. A timeline emphasizes the urgency many First Nations and mining reform advocates have been pushing for, Nikki Skuce told The Narwhal. Skuce is the director of the Northern Confluence Initiative and co-chair of the BC Mining Law Reform network. Updating the process to include consultation and cooperation with Indigenous people will also achieve biodiversity and conservation targets, Skuce said. Over the next 18 months, a new regime has to be created that addresses the needs of over 200 First Nations across the province, Marsden added. But they won’t be starting from scratch. “There is some background work that has been done in the previous efforts to reform the Mineral Tenure Act,” she said.  “I’m really hopeful that they’ll return to those key messages.” “There’s been years of First Nations efforts to try and overhaul the regime in British Columbia and it unfortunately did take this legal action to do that,” said Naxginkw (Tara Marsden). Photo: Jimmy Jeong / The Narwhal One step closer ‘to make a better world’ The Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Prince Edward Island all have policy variations restricting people from entering private property to prospect or make a claim without the consent of the land owner, according to the coalition of environmental groups who intervened on the case.   Modernization of the Mineral Tenure Act in B.C. was already underway, and the 18-month timeline allows the process to continue with “clarity and predictability,” Keerit Jutla, president and CEO for the Association for Mineral Exploration told The Narwhal. “We believe that Indigenous participation is central to successful mineral exploration in B.C.,” Jutla said. The association has represented the mineral exploration industry since 1912. It was part of a coalition of industry groups intervening in the court case, arguing claim holder activities prior to permitting stages don’t impact Indigenous Rights and consultation is required when a proponent seeks permits. As the new regime is developed, Jutla said the association will be encouraging proponents and partners to build relationships and meaningful collaborations with First Nations “as early in the process as possible, whether that’s contemplating staking or contemplating any projects.” The association offers best practices and resources online for companies who are looking for advice on how to start.  Over the 14 days of hearings, the province argued against any immediate changes to the current mineral tenure system and asked for a minimum of 18 months to reform the mineral title system.   Lax k’naga dzol (Banks Island) has been part of the Gitxaała First Nation’s homelands since time immemorial. It’s the community’s breadbasket, where members harvest salmon and halibut, seaweed, giant mussels and medicinal plants. Photo: Gitxaała Territorial Management Agency In written and oral submissions lawyers for the province pointed to recent numbers from the British Columbia geological survey, which found spending on mineral and coal exploration grew to almost $660 million in 2021. Mining has generated a three-year annual average of close to $250 million in direct mineral tax revenue for the province, lawyers said. While the province is citing the number of jobs and revenue the mining industry brings in, they are leaving out the cost of clean up and irreparable damages to the land, Gitxaała Hereditary Chief Nees Hiwaas previously told The Narwhal. “The damage is more than the money they make,” he said. “The people that come to do the mining are the ones that rape the land and then leave. They don’t have to live with it. We have to live with it. That’s what makes me sad.” The economic arguments made by industry groups in court were almost seen as “parallel to constitutional rights,” Marsden told The Narwhal. “That is not the way to go about building relationships,” she said. There are progressive mining companies out there and now is the time to work with those who are ready to implement this “groundbreaking case.” Gitxaała Elders, leadership and community members made multiple trips from their home territories of Banks Island and Prince Rupert to be present at the Vancouver hearings. Dozens of supporters joined First Nation leadership outside the courthouse for the final day of hearings and leadership left hopeful that change was coming.   “Like many nations, Gitxaała has been living with the consequences of bad mining practices for years. We knew that bringing this case forward was not just the right thing for Gitxaała, it was also part of the broader work of ensuring respect for the laws and governance of all sovereign Indigenous Peoples in B.C.,” Innes told The Narwhal in an email. “We see this as another step in the journey we are on to make a better world for the future generations of all Indigenous Peoples in this province.”

‘Shameful’: Manitoba’s protected areas grew less than 0.1% in seven years

The Progressive Conservatives have denounced the federal goal of protecting 30 per cent of land and water by 2030, saying further conservation 'could harm economic development'

Manitoba’s protected areas network has grown by just 400 square kilometres in the last seven years, according to analysis by The Narwhal and Winnipeg Free Press.  That represents just a 0.06 per cent increase at a time when global organizations are urging governments to ramp up conservation efforts and commit to protecting 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030.  To get there, Manitoba would need to nearly triple its existing protected area network, from just over 70,000 square kilometres to more than 194,000 square kilometres — but Manitoba’s leaders have refused to commit to 30-by-30 goals.  Manitoba is falling far behind the national goal of protecting 30 per cent of land and water by 2030. And even within areas it has somewhat protected, like Nopaming Provincial Park, mining activity still clears forests and scars the landscape. Photo: Shannon VanRaes / The Narwhal With the Oct. 3 Manitoba election fast approaching, environmental non-profit groups are calling on the parties to commit to reversing course by integrating a climate lens into all provincial policy decisions and committing to international conservation targets. While the Environment Department (formerly conservation) has suffered cuts across the board, the protected area program has virtually disappeared from government budgets, stalling Manitoba’s progress toward international climate and biodiversity goals. “If we’re going to solve the climate crisis, if we’re going to solve the issue of mass wildlife and species decline all over the world, we need to protect habitat, which means we need to protect nature,” Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Manitoba chapter, said in an interview. Manitoba election comes amid minimal progress toward conservation initiatives According to the United Nations, biodiversity is declining faster than ever. One fifth of the world’s land area has been degraded and nearly one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, the most in human history. Biodiversity and habitat loss make ecosystems more vulnerable to climate change while having negative effects on human health and economic systems.  Manitoba has historically hesitated to sign on to conservation targets. The last time the province agreed to specific goals was in the 1990s, when the protected areas initiative program was first developed. Manitoba is ranked seventh — or dead-centre — among provinces and territories for the proportion of land and water it has protected within its borders. The branch responsible for moving the needle on protected areas has been “chronically underfunded,” Thiessen said.  But financial investments and a dedicated team of staff for the program through the 2000s saw the network grow from 3,500 square kilometres in 1990 to almost 52,000 square kilometres — more than eight per cent of the province’s land area — by 2009, when Greg Selinger replaced Gary Doer as Manitoba’s NDP premier. The following eight-year Selinger term saw the network grow another 20,000 square kilometres to 11 per cent of the province.  Growth has flat-lined since. More than half of the land added to the network in the last seven years came through the recognition of Canadian Forces Base Shilo, near Brandon, which is managed by the Department of National Defence. Another third of the land came as a result of updated reporting criteria for protected areas, which allowed Manitoba to classify an additional 130 square kilometres of heritage land owned by external groups like the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.  The most recent addition to the network, Pemmican Island Provincial Park, had been designated an interim protected area years prior, but the Conservative government had allowed that designation to lapse in 2018 to open the area to mineral exploration. We’ve tripled our Prairies coverage The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. We’ve tripled our Prairies coverage Today, Manitoba makes scant mention of the protected areas initiative. There is just one passing reference to the program in the latest department report, stating the province “continues to contribute” to the network. The department has since been moved to the Department of Natural Resources and Northern Development. According to a statement from an unnamed government spokesperson, there is just one staff member working on the initiative today. Publicly, the Progressive Conservatives have denounced global 30 by 30 targets. Responding to a Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society election survey distributed to Manitoba political parties, the Tories were the only party that refused to commit to conservation and biodiversity goals, instead calling the target “arbitrary” and claiming pursuing such goals “could harm economic development, particularly in northern communities and disrupt various sectors across the province that rely on land use.”  “It’s shameful,” Thiessen says. “The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, experts all over the world, have all agreed this is a necessary target, so to call that number arbitrary is misleading at best.” The remains of exploration work, from cleared lands and equipment to core samples, can be found across Nopaming Provincial Park. The Manitoba government says it hesitates to conserve more land in fear of risking economic development opportunities. Photos: Shannon VanRaes / The Narwhal Manitobans agree conservation should be a government priority.  A Probe Research poll conducted in June found 83 per cent of Manitobans want the province to move toward the 30 by 30 conservation target, while 60 per cent said they would be more likely to vote for a party that pledges to do just that.  “These are huge existential priorities,” Mark Hudson, a sociology professor at the University of Manitoba who has studied the links between labour issues and climate change, said in an interview. “If the government is not paying attention to climate and biodiversity, it’s got its head in the sand.” Indigenous-led conservation efforts stalled by provincial government cuts Despite the government’s claims conservation could economically harm the north, four northern First Nations have been waiting months for the government to sign off on a project proposal that would add 50,000 square kilometres to the protected areas network while bringing economic and social benefits to their communities. The Seal River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of four First Nations looking to protect Manitoba’s last undammed river and a pristine northern watershed, has gained local and international momentum since their proposed Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) was first announced in 2019.  The Seal River IPCA would protect eight per cent of Manitoba, including habitat crucial for beluga whales, polar bears and seals. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal Executive director Stephanie Thorassie has spoken about the project at conferences across the world, the alliance has secured federal funds and is in its second year of Indigenous Guardian training, which allows community members to learn traditional and western skills to lead tourism programs, conduct environmental monitoring and steward the land. Progress toward an official protected area designation is well underway. The only hurdle they have yet to overcome is the provincial government. “It’s been really frustrating because there’s so much positivity, there’s so much momentum and it’s a huge opportunity for the government to advance its commitments to reconciliation,” Thorassie said. The Seal River Watershed Alliance has helped train youth and community members in caribou hide-tanning and drum-making, and to earn Paddle Canada certification. Their work is supported and funded by the federal government. Photos: Harv Sawatzky / Seal River Watershed Alliance The alliance has been waiting nine months for Manitoba to sign a memorandum of understanding to temporarily ban mining and mineral exploration from the lands in the proposed protected area and allow the nations to complete a feasibility study for the proposal. Thorassie said she’s been given the runaround as the ever-revolving door inside the Climate and Natural Resources departments lead to delays. “It’s a constant merry-go-round,” Thorassie said. “Nobody ever does their homework, we’re just circling around, talking about the same thing over and over again, or there’s another cabinet shuffle and then we’re waiting for people to get up to speed.” When asked to explain why the memorandum of understanding has not yet been signed, an unnamed spokesperson for the Manitoba government did not provide a specific answer, instead stating the project is “complex” and the province continues to meet with Parks Canada and the alliance.  The Manitoba government is stalling on signing a memorandum of understanding to stop mining and mineral exploration in the Seal River watershed, which would allow for a feasibility study toward establishing an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area. Photo: Jordan Melograna / Seal River Watershed Alliance Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas like the Seal River watershed are increasingly recognized as the best practice for protecting lands and waters, understanding Indigenous Peoples are best equipped with the knowledge to steward their lands. “Historically, we didn’t manage the land, we lived in harmony with the land,” Thorassie explained.  “All of this is about having respect for your siblings, your family — which includes the land — to be able to live together. It’s not about thinking that you’re better than the land and needing to manage above it and control it.” There are currently seven other Indigenous protected areas in the early planning stages across Manitoba that would add a combined 10 per cent to the province’s protected areas network. But a lack of provincial investment and pressure from the mineral industry — which has likened protected areas to “sterilizing” the land — stands to delay progress.  “Meanwhile it’s the exact opposite,” Thorassie said. Mineral activity in nearby Dene territory has decimated vital northern ecosystems and caribou habitat, destroying large carbon sinks along the way, she added. “How hard is it to convince the world that they need to breathe?” Manitoba could protect 40 per cent of its lands by 2030: advocate   Between the Seal River watershed, seven other IPCA proposals and a nearly 74,000-square-kilometre network of proposed protected areas mapped out by provincial staff in the mid-aughts, Manitoba could protect 40 per cent of its lands by 2030, according to Thiessen.  That still falls short of the proportion of land Canadians feel their governments should be protecting. A national Nanos Research poll conducted in October 2022 found Canadians, on average, want to see nearly half of the country’s land area (and more than half of its water) conserved — and the majority are willing to see the government spend more to get there. More than 80 per cent of Canadians — and 86 per cent of Manitobans — indicated they would support increased government spending to expand the network of protected areas.  A former clay and gravel mine, FortWhyte Alive is a reclaimed wildlife preserve near Winnipeg, along the migratory path of Canada geese. As Manitoba's Environment Department faces cuts and staffing shortages, its ability to protect and conserve more lands is diminishing. Photo: Travel Manitoba Respondents ranked government funding as the most important mechanism to support designating and managing new conservation areas, followed by fees for companies doing business on protected lands and fees to access protected areas. “A lot of policy-makers are used to the status quo and used to the old way of doing things. I think it's really important for people to realize that it's not going to work anymore,” Thorassie said. “This is an amazing opportunity to listen to what the people are saying and wanting, and it reinforces the teachings and the wisdom of our community members and our Elders.” But the most significant barrier to protecting more lands, increasing environmental monitoring activities or implementing any number of key environmental services in Manitoba remains a dire lack of resources. “There has been no time in Manitoba history that parks and protected areas, or the environment, have been funded sufficiently,” Thiessen said. “There isn’t enough staff to do the job required and the staff don’t have the budgets to do what they need to do.”

SANParks launches its 2023 FREE Access week

If you're in SA, check out one of the country's fabulous national parks this week...The post SANParks launches its 2023 FREE Access week appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

If you’re a nature lover, don’t miss the opportunity this week to enter one of South Africa’s national parks for a free day visit!South African National Parks (SANParks) – in partnership with TotalEnergies Marketing South Africa and First National Bank (FNB)- opened the 18th annual SANPARKS Week in Pretoria on Saturday (16 Sep), with Environmental Minister Barbara Creecy doing the honours.The special week ends next Sunday (24 Sep). Specific dates can be found here: free week gives everyone, particularly the communities beside the parks, an opportunity to get a great understanding of the importance of conservation. SANParks CEO Hapiloe Sello says: “The role of communities in our efforts to protect our parks is of vital importance.”SANParks recently embarked on the SANParks Vision 2040 project which in part is about cultivating a collective sense of community, healing, and inspiration that resonates with all South Africans.This SANParks week is also an opportunity to showcase South Africa’s national parks as affordable local holiday destinations that offer unique experiences for families and individuals from all backgrounds to enjoy. The free access to the parks does not include accommodation or any commercial activities in the park.SANParks started this campaign in 2006. “Come and experience our parks and enjoy SA National Week as it is for all South Africans. This is your heritage, explore it, learn from it and love it,” says Sello.Visit for more information.The post SANParks launches its 2023 FREE Access week appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

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