Tl’azt’en Nation and UNBC have partnered in the development and operation of the John Prince Research Forest since 1993. From the initial conceptualization and visioning, the partners successfully negotiated crown tenure over the site of the JPRF in 1999, formed a non-profit corporation, Chuzghun Resources Corporation (CRC) in 2000, and purchased and renovated a research station in 2002, while carrying out an active educational and research program throughout. The Cinnabar Research Station, which provides accommodation for upwards of 25 people, has been the site of many experiential learning programs and workshops that have taken place on the JPRF over the last decade.
The research program has evolved over time. Initially, there was a focus on social science as UNBC and Tl’azt’en Nation worked to define topics of mutual research interest and mechanisms of working together. Capacity building within the community featured as an important element of these early projects as Tl’azt’en sought to develop skills to support their research needs. Mechanisms to engage and incorporate indigenous approaches and interests into natural resource research and management were developed. Within the Tl’azt’en community, individuals gained awareness and confidence in their ability to manage research efforts to support their community goals. The University and its students learned much about working with communities, in ways that were both respectful and would have lasting usefulness to them. A series of social-based research projects, cumulating in a SHERC-funded CURA program, were the prominent efforts throughout the JPRF’s first decade.
Working together, Tl’azt’en Nation, UNBC and the staff of the JPRF began concurrently, to develop a research agenda that would support Tl’azt’en’s stewardship of their traditional territories. A focus on long-term environmental monitoring: developing baseline levels (especially of wildlife), monitoring technique and skills, and setting up protocols for sound stewardship is the current direction for research on the JPRF. Projects on mule deer winter range, bear dens, mineral licks and other wildlife features were among the first work done to support an environmental monitoring program. The program has expanded to include a variety of projects focussed on fur-bearers, ungulates and features a network of video stations for observation and monitoring.
The JPRF has also supported UNBC’s natural resource program, hosting field trips for various classes as well as the annual Forestry field school. Many graduate and undergraduate projects have been supported financially and/or in-kind on the JPRF. Chuntoh Education Society, a registered charity associated with the JPRF, supports a cultural-based science program ‘Yunk’ut Whe Ts’o Dul’eh’ (We Learn from the Land), that is delivered to local elementary school children.
Where We Are Heading
The JPRF, by nature of its long-term and renewable tenure, and its research and education mandate, is well-situated to develop and maintain long-term environmental monitoring, supporting the stewardship role of Tl’azt’en Nation over their lands and resources, and contributing to the sustained health and function of forest ecology of northern British Columbia.
In 2012, the JPRF hired a full-time ecological monitoring coordinator to consolidate the wildlife research done to date and to initiate a comprehensive long-term monitoring program for wildlife and their habitat. The ultimate goal is to understand the impacts of human activities on wildlife and their habitat as well as investigate potential ways to improve on existing practices and better incorporate wildlife values into land use planning. Although the program will eventually include a suite of wildlife guilds as indicators, initial efforts have focused on the ungulate and mesocarnivore communities. A monitoring infrastructure of 66 video camera stations has been established over the Research Forest as the focus of one of our core monitoring efforts.
Monitoring provides the hypothesis for observed changes; research is often implemented in a more structured design to assess more specific cause-and-effect relationships. More intensive research projects also provide input into long-term monitoring strategies and together provide a direct feedback loop. To complement our monitoring efforts, we have conducted research projects on river otter, mink, marten, and moose and hope to initiate a study on Canada lynx in the near future. Recently, LiDar imagery has been obtained for the JPRF and surrounding area (some 122 ha), including tenures held by Tl’azt’en Nation, that will greatly improve our wildlife habitat analyses and add significant value to our knowledge base and recommendations for incoroporating wildlife values into land use planning.