I had the pleasure of attending the 2023 SFI Annual Conference in collaboration with PEFC Week in Vancouver, British Columbia, from May 14-18, as a sponsored member of a delegation of 41 students and young professionalsfrom all around the world. The theme of this year’s conference was “Forest + People + Nature positive,” which was reflected in the diverse array of session topics, from climate-smart forestry to supply-chain leadership. The most exciting topic for me was Indigenous rights and reconciliation through adaptive co-management of forest resources.
Indigenous Peoples have actively managed forest landscapes since time immemorial. One important practice was cultural burning using low-intensity fires, which helped regenerate the forest floor, providing food and medicinal plants, as well as reducing fuel loads. Fire was seen as good, aiding in ecosystem regeneration, as well as being an essential part of life. Burning and naturally occurring wildfires created patchy stands of trees of different ages, structures, and species.
Under the stewardship of Indigenous Peoples, forested landscapes were biodiverse and resilient. In the event of a wildfire, patchy networks acted as a fire break to prevent wildfires spreading. Indigenous Peoples did not fear low-intensity fire because it offered them subsistence, and they recognized these ecosystems relied on fire for regeneration.
As the BC forest sector evolves and shifts away from the traditional Eurocentric framework of forest governance, coupled with increasing threats of intensified wildfire activity under a changing climate, we have a unique opportunity to adapt Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in how we carry out wildfire management in our communities.
In 2019, BC became the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP was passed unanimously by the legislative assembly. This was a significant step towards government-to-government co‑management initiatives, increasing our capacity for solidifying existing relationships, forming new partnerships, and creating equitable collaboration opportunities.
Real transformative change takes an open mind, capacity, resources, and time—lots of time. Following the adoption of UNDRIP, the forest sector has made significant process in engaging Indigenous governments, whether it be inviting Indigenous communities to prescribed burn events or including Indigenous leaders at the decision-making table. These partnerships range from baby steps to massive leaps toward government-to-government co-management. After all, there is a strong shared goal between forestry companies and Indigenous nations: keepingour forests healthy and resilient for generations to come.
Now, we must take advantage of this shared vision, and move from transactional relationships to co‑management outcomes. This involves forgetting our preconceived notions about what we think wildfire management is andactively listening to Indigenous voices. We need to gain the trust of Indigenous governments before we can establishand cultivate meaningful relationships. We can do this by putting people first, recognizing our differences, and learning from each other. As Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of SFI, said: “Successful partnership is the newleadership!”
I strongly believe that our province is moving in the right direction in our approach to wildfire co‑management. I am extremely grateful to have been invited to represent both the University of British Columbia and the City of Port Moody at this engaging and inspiring conference. It’s an exciting time to be a young professional in the forest sector!
Daniella (Jia Lu) Zhang is Co-Chair of the Interagency Wildfire Management Task Group at the City of Port Moody, BC, Canada. She graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Urban Forestry, Landscape and Recreation Planning in May. Daniella will be pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Switzerland’s École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne this fall.
Daniella carries out her work on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie),qʼʷa:n̓ ƛʼən̓ (Kwantlen), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), and Stó:lō (Sto:lo) Peoples, and extends her appreciation for the opportunity to work on this territory.