Impacts of Human Resource Extraction Activities on Natural Ecosystems

Research at Carnation Creek has improved our society's understanding of ecological, biological and physical processes in Pacific Northwest watersheds.

by Wendy Kotilla

Nestled in the Southeast corner of Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Carnation Creek is a small watershed with a unique and diverse history. The rugged terrain of the 12 square kilometre watershed was shaped by the last period of glaciation in the Pacific Northwest.Heavy rain falls and a warm climate support a rich and diverse coastal temperate rainforest. The 7.8 kilometre long stream nurtures fish populations of salmon, trout, and sculpin.

The human history of Carnation Creek chronicles two distinct cultures with different lengths of residency and land ethics. For thousands of years Huu-ay-aht First Nations have known it as Cha-cha-tsi-us. Since 1970 the scientific community has conducted research as Carnation Creek Experimental Watershed Project. These two cultures form different sources of knowledge with different outlooks on human relationships with the land.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations are part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which is comprised of fourteen First Nation bands on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Their main principle, Hishuk Tsawak (all is one) is fundamental to nurturing an essential balance with nature. This principle has a history thousands of years old based on the ha'wiih (chiefs) responsibility for the condition and welfare of their hahoothlee (chiefly territory). The hahoothlee is an all-encompassing hereditary lineage of cultural traditions that include the land, water, air, sea, and natural resources. Together with the titles, teachings, songs, dances and regalia, these all form a hereditary chief's wealth under sovereignty.

Tom Mexsis Happynook, Huu-ay-aht Head Hereditary Whaling Chief, is responsible for his family's traditional territory at Cha-cha-tsi-us. The last person known to live at the estuary village site was Tom Happynook's Great-Great Grandfather. Tom's Grandfather and Great Grandfather were the last Huu-ay-aht whalers to harpoon a whale. When the Carnation Creek Project started in 1970, Tom was twelve years old, and his father had died two years earlier. Tom's Grandfather spoke to him as a child about the Carnation Creek research and told him of the Happynook family's hereditary responsibility for Cha-cha-tsi-us.

Whalers had their own sacred way of praying and were considered to be loners, as seclusion was part of whale hunting preparation. Cha-cha-tsi-us whaling chiefs prepared by starting at the water source in the mountain, they worked their way down to sacred places, gathering special medicines from certain areas and ended at the ocean. Black bears played an important part in the ceremonial whaling regalia that included a cape, headdress and curtain. Tom Happynook's Grandfather was convinced by the church to burn the traditional Cha-cha-tsi-us whaling regalia on the beach. The Happynooks are preparing a new curtain to display their family history.

Cha-cha-tsi-us was an important resource area for people who lived in the watershed and surrounding area, its natural resources considered of special quality. With this high quality resource base, the Happynook family had a traditional responsibility to welcome and feed visitors before their arrival to the Numukamis main village. Traditional uses of the resources were for food, materials, medicines, and spiritual purposes.

Respect, protection and monitoring of resources are of the utmost importance in traditional resource management. The existence of the resources depended on Cha-cha-tsi-us being an intact, fully functioning ecosystem, inclusive of all of its parts. Tom Happynook is deeply disappointed about the degradation at Cha-cha-tsi-us from forest harvesting damage that contributes to him being unable to fulfil his traditional obligations. The occupation of the watershed by the researchers for the past thirty-two years has limited the Happynooks' access to their hereditary territory.

A Joint Forest Council was created in 2001 with equal representation from Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Uchucklesaht Tribes and Ministry of Forests. In a letter to the Council last year, Tom Happynook expressed his interests in developing a collaborated long-term Carnation Creek Watershed Management Plan, that would ensure the continuation of the existing Carnation Creek Project, create a management coalition, and document the value of indigenous management techniques. The Happynook family vision is of a global model management plan that includes social, cultural, spiritual and economic aspects, as well as conservation, education, and indigenous and scientific knowledge.

Carnation Creek Experimental Watershed Project is a multi disciplinary study of forest harvest impacts on fish and their habitat. In operation for thirty-two years, it is the longest, continuous fisheries/forestry research project in North America, and recognized as a leader in long-term ecosystem studies. Research at Carnation Creek has improved our society's understanding of ecological, biological and physical processes in Pacific Northwest watersheds.

In two phases of forest harvest operations, 65% of the Carnation Creek watershed has been logged. The main project funding from 1970 to 1990 was by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and from 1991 to 2001 it was the provincial Ministry of Forests.

Research is currently funded by the provincial Forest Investment Account and coordinated by Dr. Peter Tschaplinski, Ministry of Forests, Research Branch with an approved work plan reviewed by the Science Council of BC. Present objectives of the Carnation Creek studies are assessment of BC watershed restoration initiatives and monitoring effectiveness of the Forest Practices Results-Based Code.

Historically part of the planning process, the Carnation Creek Technical Working Group last met in 1999, the first and only time throughout its history that a Huu-ay-aht representative was invited to attend. Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ministry of Forests and University of BC form the present technical working group, whose purpose is to coordinate studies, exchange information on project results, and communicate with forest industry and Huu-ay-aht contacts. Stefan Ochman, Huu-ay-aht Fisheries Manager, suggested that a higher level of information exchange and communication is needed.

Forest harvesting in the watershed increased the rate of water drainage, sediment processes, and water temperatures. The volume of landslide material increased 12-fold after logging elevated water yields. Clear-cutting to the streamsides caused streambank erosion and increased sediment movement. A decline in gravel particle size and stability resulted in a 50% reduction in egg-to-fry survival for coho and chum salmon. Increased stream temperatures caused increased growth rates for juvenile salmon and trout. Returns of adult chum salmon have declined from one third to one sixth of their previous numbers; and there has been about a 31% decline of large adult coho salmon returns to the stream. Adult salmon returns can also be affected by low periods of ocean productivity, climate change, and commercial and sport fishing pressures.

Carnation Creek remains unstable and conditions persist to change rapidly in the headwater, hillslope, floodplain and channel portions of the watershed. Annual data collection and monitoring continues on fish populations and habitat, channel morphology, climate and hydrology. Long-term studies are critical for understanding the complexity and interconnectedness of natural ecosystems, and the impacts of human resource extraction activities to those ecosystems.

The indigenous and scientific worldviews, sources of knowledge and sense of place are what is known and how people feel about the Cha-cha-tsi-us/Carnation Creek landscape. Our knowledge and sense of ourselves, where we fit into our communities, cultures, societies and the Earth is linked to our knowledge of places. Sense of place is a universal experience that has the potential to build bridges across social and cultural boundaries. Collectively, the rich and diverse wisdom of this small watershed is of local, regional and global significance.

At Carnation Creek and throughout the world, it is time for building community and sharing the power of decision making, rather than having one worldview dominating other worldviews. The process towards reconciliation of indigenous and scientific worldviews at Carnation Creek, and elsewhere, is complex and the progress is slow. The challenge for both indigenous and scientific communities is to work toward a common future vision with a spirit of cooperation and respect for each other's worldviews. Carnation Creek has been a model of long-term ecosystem research and has the potential to become a model for the integration of indigenous and scientific resource management techniques. The land is the common ground.

* Originally presented at World's Indigenous Peoples: Perspectives and Processes, October 2002, "Territory of the Okanagan First Nation," Okanagan University College, Kelowna, BC V1V 1V7. A shorter version of this article was first published in Ha-Shilth-Sa, Port Alberni, BC, Vol.30, No.3, February 2003.


[From WS April/May 2003]

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