In the very most northern Rocky Mountains, the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area (MKMA) encompasses boreal plains, muskeg, and alpine peaks, forming a wilderness ecosystem of incredible magnitude. Fifty inter-connected wilderness watersheds support elk, moose, caribou, and Stone’s sheep and other ungulates, which in turn support populations of grizzly bears, wolves, and other carnivores.
Origins of the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area
In 1997, following the completion of several land planning processes in Northern BC, the British Columbia government created the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area (www.muskwa-kechika.com), a conservation system of over 16 million acres containing over 2.5 million acres of parks, with the remaining area designated as ‘special management zones’. According to a dedicated statute—the MKMA Act—resource development may continue within these special management zones, but only while accommodating and protecting important wildlife, wilderness, and environmental values. The British Columbia government also set in place requirements for the completion of local strategic plans for the MKMA before any development could proceed. These plans were intended to provide further direction for recreation, timber harvesting, or oil and gas development so that activities in the MKMA were consistent with the conservation intent of the Muskwa-Kechika.
The MKMA thus represented the ‘high water mark’ of strategic land use planning in British Columbia, and set in place a unique governance regime including a dedicated provincial statute, special planning and management requirements to ensure conservation and wilderness values are respected, and a multi-stakeholder advisory board with a $3-million/year trust fund to support projects aimed at achieving the vision for the area.
In recognition of these special arrangements, the MKMA has been heralded as “one of the leading models of land use planning and conservation biology in action” (National Round Table on Environment and Economy) and “some of the most stunning successes achieved at a Land Use Planning table in BC.” (CPAWS)
Round River Involvement in the MKMA
The MKMA is a unique example of a management arrangement with special requirements aimed at achieving conservation over the long term and at a regional scale, while also allowing for industrial development to occur. The challenge for the MKMA is to determine just how much development can occur, at what pace and at what scale.
To help address this challenge, Round River and its partners the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Dovetail Consulting, were contracted by the British Columbia government in 2003 to develop a Conservation Area Design for the MKMA. The objective of this exercise was to provide a comprehensive and reliable decision support tool to inform management and planning in the MKMA, and to assist in identifying the trade-offs involved in any given resource development decision. . The resulting CAD and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Toolkit for the MKMA has set a new standard for creating adaptable and accessible information systems for implementing conservation in large intact landscapes. The MKMA CAD was completed in 2004, and was again profiled in a workshop organized by the MK Advisory Board in 2006.
Much has been achieved in the MKMA over the last decade, under the guidance of the MK Advisory Board. Several major research studies have been successfully completed, together with other initiatives such as aboriginal youth camps, promotion and communications projects, and the completion of local strategic land use plans.
At the same time, there are now concerns over the long-term security and stability of the MKMA. Although the area itself is largely unchanged from a decade ago, there have been many adjustments in the governance arrangements for the MKMA itself that have undermined confidence and raised questions over the commitments made to conservation for the long term. In particular, the BC government has reduced the funding support available for the MKMA and cut back severely on agency resources and commitments. Over several years, the provincial government has also struggled to define an appropriate role for the MK Advisory Board, which now has less than 10% of the funding that was originally available. In addition, some of the key changes needed to keep the MKMA Act and regulation up to date have yet to be completed, and other work needed to maintain a clear and effective management regime is still not underway. The Advisory Board’s own proposal for improvements in governance for the MKMA (2007) has also not been fully accepted by the BC Government.
In the fall of 2009, the BC Government initiated government-to-government discussions with the Treaty 8, Kaska Dena and Tsay Keh Dene First Nations whose territories include parts of the MKMA, regarding the future of the area and the role of First Nations in future decision making arrangements. Many of those who have invested more than a decade into one of BC’s most remarkable conservation areas are watching with great interest.