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Who is watching the land? Report helps communities develop the tools to monitor change

by pmnationtalk on February 20, 201892 Views

Who is watching the land?

Report helps communities develop the tools to monitor change

With new all-weather roads, transmission lines, and mines planned for Ontario’s Far North, ecological monitoring and baseline information collection will be critical to help communities understand the impacts of changes to the water, land and wildlife.

A new report released today by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Canada) argues that communities need to be empowered to track these changes along with the changes being brought about by a rapidly changing climate through Community-Based Monitoring (CBM). Watching, Listening, and Learning to Understand Change outlines the many benefits of — and key approaches to — developing CBM programs.

“The Ontario government has no system or process for assessing or monitoring the cumulative effects of new industrial land use and climate change in one of the world’s most ecologically and culturally intact areas,” says Cheryl Chetkiewicz one of the co-authors of the report, who notes that there are 34 communities with more than 40,000 First Nation community members in Ontario’s Far North.

While the government is working toward community-based land-use plans and has a regional framework agreement with the nine Matawa communities most closely affected by Ring of Fire development, there has been little attention to developing monitoring programs that can be used to assess whether desired outcomes are being achieved, she points out.

“Any effective monitoring program has to be built from the ground up with the full involvement of the people who will be most directly affected by these changes,” says Chetkiewicz.  The WCS Canada report points out that a well-designed Community Based Monitoring approach blends traditional knowledge and conventional scientific research to create a more holistic picture of what is happening — from species biodiversity to habitat loss — and can be used to address First Nations rights and responsibilities.

For generations, First Nations communities in the Far North and Indigenous societies around the world have been monitoring what takes place on their traditional territories. When does freeze-up begin? Are there fewer animals today than a few years ago? Are there more fires in the forest?  This kind of information, based on years of accumulated knowledge, simply can’t be replicated by short-term scientific monitoring programs, intermittent government-led data collection efforts or the limited baseline data collected within individual project-based assessments.

By contrast, CBM programs offer a way for this knowledge to be used to inform land-use decisions and to enhance climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, benefits the report documents through case studies of programs from around the world.  “Each program is slightly different because it is designed to meet local needs and contexts,” notes Chetkiewicz, “but what they have in common is a recognition that Indigenous and local communities are in an excellent position to drive this process given their experience, traditional knowledge, and their rights and responsibilities.”

To do this well, however, Indigenous communities must have access to monitoring approaches, methods and tools that are culturally appropriate and that are based on the best available knowledge, including traditional knowledge.  These tools can then be used to integrate the observations that are routinely gathered as community members hunt, fish, gather and travel across their territories.

“The Ontario government needs to embrace Community Based Monitoring for Ontario’s Far North and work with communities in existing or new processes to develop programs that can help us better understand the cumulative impacts of development and climate change in this globally important region. Our report offers a road map for doing so in a respectful and equitable way.”

The report is available at:  www.wcscanada.org

For further information, contact:

Cheryl Chetkiewicz
Conservation Scientist and Landscape Lead
Cell: 807-472-1440
Email: cchetkiewicz@wcs.org

About WCS Canada
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada was incorporated as a conservation organization in Canada in 2004.  The mission of WCS Canada is to conserve wildlife and wild places by understanding the issues, developing science-based solutions, and working with others to carry out conservation actions across Canada. WCS Canada is distinguished from other environmental organizations through our role in generating science through field and applied research, and by using our results to encourage collaboration among scientific communities, organizations and policy makers to achieve conservation results.

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