As my friend Yvon likes to say, victories in the conservation game are hard to come by. But after years of battling to keep Petronas, a giant multi-national corporation, from building an LNG plant on critical salmon habitat at the mouth of the Skeena River, First Nations and the conservation groups that supported them, had reason to celebrate: A clear win. Petronas gave up, bailed, and left pristine Lelu Island to the salmon and the people of the North. Above, a glimpse of the spectacular Skeena estuary as we drove through heavy rain and dark, roiling skies.
At Port Edward, the gathering crowd met a small flotilla of boats to ferry us out to Lelu. That’s Yvon and Spencer headed down the dock.
On Lelu, we gathered around a smoldering fire. As the singers and drummers started in, the rain began to let up and the sky lightened. A procession of chiefs and elders strode forward to bless the pole.
Then, with ropes and the strength of the assembled masses, the enormous, beautifully carved cedar pole was pulled upright. The clouds parted, revealing blue sky.
Great peeches were made, and cheers rose from the crowd. As if by magic, a brilliant sun beamed down on us from a bluebird sky. The pole now stands sentinel on Lelu Island, watching over the Skeena and marking the place where a great battle was won, warning others who try to harm the Skeena or its salmon that they will not succeed. Victories may be hard to come by, but they sure feel good when they happen. And what an honor to be a part of it. When we returned to Prince Rupert, the storm closed in again, as if on cue. I like to think it was our friend Bruce, who fought so hard for the Skeena, smiling down on us.
My buddy Yvon and I made the trek up to Skeena Country to give talks at the SkeenaWild fundraiser, but also to spend time with our friend Bruce, and sneak in a little fishing, too. I don’t know if there’s a more important place for Western Canadadian conservation–or epic meals–than the wooden table in Bruce and Anne Hill’s kitchen in Terrace, BC. Ideas, plans, strategies and campaigns have been hatched, setbacks lamented, victories celebrated around this table, and I always feel honored to have a seat here. On this morning, Bruce and Yvon talk history and strategy for the video cameras.
Then we were off to The Shack, for more time with friends I never get to see enough, and some actual fishing. After a day on the water, that’s (from left to right) Yvon, April, Aaron, Bruce and Calvin chewing the fat before dinner. Rick, our host was, I believe, outside turning moose steaks and deer backstrap on the barbecue, and I took a quick break from tending the matsutake mushroom rice to snap this shot. The highlight of the night, and probably the whole trip, for me, was when Bruce put his prized Martin six-string in my hands, and with a mix of embarrassment and fumbling fingers, I plunked out and sang a couple verses of Long Black Veil with Bruce. My utter lack of guitar and singing skills made me unworthy of the instrument, but it’s a moment that’ll stay with me forever.
Lured in by the aroma of sizzling moose steaks, our landlord, Bob and his giant friend Ootza(sp?), dropped by for a bite and a visit. Bob is one of the finest steelhead anglers and cane-rod makers on the planet, as well as a staunch protector of his beloved river and fish. He’s also a hell of a nice guy. Any time I fish or talk with him, I learn something new. Stay tuned for fishing and fish…
The Skeena River in British Columbia is one of the last great strongholds of wild salmon and steelhead on the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, it also happens to flow through some of the most resource-rich regions in the world, and makes a perfect conduit to Asian markets for tar sand oil from Alberta. The threats to this vital watershed are many and ongoing, but in light of Royal Dutch Shell’s withdrawal from the Sacred Headwaters earlier this year, and the recent eviction of Fortune Minerals from the same area by the Tahltan First Nations, thought I would post this video.
I met Rachel Van Zanten at a small party of enviros in Vancouver a few years ago. In addition to being a kick-ass slide guitarist and singer, she’s from the Skeena Country and has been working to protect her home waters. You can feel Rachel’s commitment in this song. Her video features some incredibly moving footage of the Tahltan elders’ heroic (and ultimately, successful) protest of Shell’s coalbed methane project in the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.
Lots of inspiring work going on up there, led by First Nations and conservation groups like the Headwaters Initiative, Skeena Wild, Watershed Watch, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and others. If you fish the Skeena and want to see it survive, please click on the links above and find out how you can support the effort. But really, saving a world treasure like the Skeena should matter to us all.