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The governments of Canada and British Columbia and the First Nations Leadership Council have struck an agreement to invest up to $1-billion on conservation initiatives in the province, saying the new pact will help protect old-growth forests and endangered species such as boreal caribou and spotted owls.

Under the Tripartite Framework Agreement on Nature Conservation, announced Friday in Vancouver, Ottawa has agreed to invest up to $500-million over the life of the agreement with matching funding to come from the province, adding up to what was described in a news release as “one of the most significant nature investment plans in the history of Canada.”

The agreement features some previously announced funds, including a recently launched B.C. conservation initiative that will match provincial dollars with crowd-sourced donations to raise $300-million for conservation through protected areas, First Nations stewardship programs and other measures.

But the new framework agreement earmarks those funds for conservation developed in partnership with B.C. First Nations. Previously announced in 2021 as a bilateral nature agreement between the governments of B.C. and Canada, the pact now has a three-way structure meant to reflect a collaborative approach between First Nations, Ottawa and the province.

That revamped structure came out of more than a year of discussions with First Nations groups.

“This agreement is very important, because not only is it B.C. and Canada, but First Nations as well,” Robert Phillips, with the First Nations Summit political executive, said Friday at a news conference to announce the deal.

“First Nations need that voice, but as well, we need that decision-making to help.”

The framework agreement is designed to help both Canada and B.C. hit their mutual goal of protecting 30 per cent of their respective lands by 2030.

It will include a federal investment of $50-million to identify and secure up to 13,000 square kilometres of old-growth forest areas and $104-million from the 2 Billion Trees program for habitat restoration, wildfire mitigation and watershed health, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

B.C. Premier David Eby and his NDP government is under pressure to implement the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review, a government-commissioned report released in 2020 that recommended immediate protection of some old-growth forests.

The government accepted all 14 recommendations in the review, but conservation groups say full implementation has yet to happen and that some old-growth areas flagged for conservation are still being logged.

Conservation groups in general welcomed the new tripartite framework on Friday, especially its emphasis on Indigenous-led conservation.

“This agreement provides B.C. with the tools to be a global leader in supporting Indigenous-led conservation that help address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change,” Tim Burkhart, director of landscape protection with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, an Alberta-based conservation group, said in a statement.

The Vancouver-based Wilderness Committee cautioned that the framework lacks eco-system-based targets to ensure new protected areas conserve the most ecologically threatened parts of the province.

The First Nations Leadership Council is an umbrella group for the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs that develops co-ordinated approaches to First Nations-related issues throughout the province.

The agreement is to be in effect between now and March, 31, 2030.

B.C. has conserved about 20 per cent of its land, more than any other province or territory. As of the end of 2022, Canada had conserved 13.6 per cent of its land and freshwater and 14.7 per cent of its marine territory.

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