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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sacred Headwaters saved from Shell exploitation

by Leslie Schrivener, The Star, Canada, January 5, 2013re on facebook

BRIAN HUNTINGTON COURTESY OF SKEEN WATERSHED CONSERVATION COAn image looking south into the Skeena Watershed from the southern portion of the Sacred Headwaters meadows.

Was it the petition with 100,000 signatures and intractable First Nations and environmentalists that forced Shell Canada Ltd. to back off a project to drill for coal-bed methane gas in a pristine B.C. wilderness?
Or was it the odour of the Bad Gas Award that persuaded one of the world’s biggest companies to withdraw from the remote alpine meadows and marshlands in the province’s northwest, an area known to some as the Sacred Headwaters?
“The message is clear the community won’t stand for dirty energy projects,” says Karen Tam Wu, ForestEthics Advocacy senior conservation campaigner, who presented the award — featuring a model of a dead salmon — to a surprised Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser in The Hague in 2011. Three salmon-rich rivers find their source in the Sacred Headwaters.
The B.C. government, Shell and the Tahltan Central Council said in December that the company was abandoning rights to its 4,000-square-kilometre tenure. The province also announced a ban on all future oil and gas development in the region known as the Klappan in northwest B.C.
There was celebration within First Nations and environmental coalitions and praise for the government of B.C. Premier Christy Clark and for Shell Canada.
“I was overjoyed,” says Annita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council. “I applaud Shell for listening to us and the government for co-operating. We are very clear about what we want to see protected and what we want to see developed and the Klappan is not one of them.”
And there was some hope that other companies will pause before launching projects in an area abounding in wildlife and rivers of pure water.
“This decision and others send a clear message and a protocol to industry that they cannot push development without licence from the people who live here,” says Shannon McPhail of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. “If it’s going to impact our wild salmon, it’s never going to fly.”
But the decision doesn’t fully protect the Sacred Headwaters, says Wade Davis, the Canadian anthropologist who has spent every summer in the area for three decades. He has lectured and written about the area, most recently in the book The Sacred Headwaters. “The decision by Shell — wonderful news as it is — shouldn’t blind us to the fact that the headwaters are still not secure.”
Fortune Minerals is intent on building an open-pit anthracite mine near Mount Klappan, in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters, and Imperial Metals Corp. is forging ahead with the Red Chris project, an open-pit gold and copper mine on Todagin Mountain, which is near Davis’s lodge on Ealue Lake. He’s disappointed that there was not wider opposition by environmental groups to the Red Chris mine.
“I feel the Red Chris is a true tragedy,” he says. The Klappan meadows are remote, while Todagin Mountain, with easy road access, is at the epicentre of what could be a sustainable world-class tourism destination, he adds.
Shell spokesperson David Williams says the company was pleased to find “common ground” with the Tahltan and the province. Shell says it will pursue better opportunities in the northeast of the province, where more infrastructure exists for gas extraction.

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