By Fin Donnelly –

What a summer. The wildfires displaced tens of thousands of people and animals, and disrupted many planned activities, which included forcing the cancellation of the Rivershed Society of BC’s (RSBC) 26-day Sustainable Living Leadership Program, a trip down the entire Fraser River by canoe, raft, shuttle van, and foot. The fires also affected FraserFEST2017 but fortunately, most of the planned activities managed to go ahead.

Keely Weget-Whitney and Fin Donnelly before Keely embarks on her 64 km. Fraser Canyon swim from Lillooet to the Stein River. Photo: Jeremy Williams
Keely Weget-Whitney and Fin Donnelly before Keely embarks on her 64 km. Fraser Canyon swim from Lillooet to Lytton in 5 1/2 hrs. Photo: Jeremy Williams

The Fraser River is the largest salmon-bearing river in the world, and its basin – comprising 34 intricately linked and interdependent riversheds –drains more than a quarter of British Columbia (21 million hectares). The Fraser River Basin is the socio-economic life-line of BC, and the heart and soul of the province, with a current population of over 1.2 million people, and a strong First Nations history going back thousands of years.

The Fraser River’s health is under serious threat from a growing population and the overall declining health of rivershed ecosystems. However, all is not lost. Each of us is connected to our riversheds and the decisions we make daily can help make our rivers and their riversheds healthy again. It will take a concerted effort from the various levels of government, businesses, and schools, right down to the individual level, all committed to reducing our collective eco-footprint.

FraserFEST 2017 drew attention to these serious issues and focused on solutions that increase water conservation and sustain wild salmon populations in the Fraser River Basin, while increasing watershed health and community well-being.

FraserFEST 2017 celebrated our watersheds with a series of Fraser River adventures, including three Fraser Canyon raft trips (from Lillooet to Yale, including Hell’s Gate), eight paddle trips and four guided cycle trips along the Lower Fraser River (from Hope to Vancouver), one paddle trip on English Bay (in Vancouver), three eco-tours (Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and New Westminster), one Fraser Canyon swim (from Lillooet to the Stein River), and eight wild salmon dinners (from Lillooet to Vancouver), where participants learned the Fraser’s story—its history, culture, threats, and solutions.

Starting in 2014 in several Fraser River communities, FraserFEST grew this year to include 12 Fraser River communities, and if the fires hadn’t prevented it, Quesnel, Soda Creek, and Williams Lake would have also participated.

FraserFEST has two main goals: to improve watershed awareness of those who live, work, and play within one of the world’s greatest remaining salmon systems—the Fraser River Basin; and to increase the number of watershed and wild salmon advocates in BC who will commit to Watershed CPR (conservation, protection, and restoration).

During many FraserFEST activities, there were discussions about the projected record low Fraser River sockeye salmon return, the impacts of climate change and open net pen fish farms, warmer waters, pollution, and habitat loss. Both the provincial and federal governments need to seriously step up their commitment to wild salmon and water conservation if the salmon are to have a chance to survive into the next century.

Whether it’s restoring environmental protections at the federal level (e.g. the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act); increasing funding to better implement the Wild Salmon Policy; or enhancing the Water Sustainability Act at the provincial level; laws and regulations need strengthening and improving if we are going to see an improvement in salmon survival and water conservation.

A concerted effort is needed in the Fraser River Basin. At RSBC, we’re calling on all levels of government to implement Watershed CPR of all watersheds within the Fraser’s vast river basin.

We need an initiative the size and scale of the Great Bear Rainforest if we want to give our salmon a chance to survive, and keep our waters clean and cool.

FraserFEST 2017 involved a dedicated network of outfitters, government organizations, First Nations, and community partners, including the cities of Vancouver, Coquitlam, and New Westminster, the Districts of Langley and Hope, Sekw’el’was, Kwikwetlem, Musqueam, Cheam and Kwantlen Nations, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Lillooet Naturalists Society, and many others.

We are indebted to all the sponsors who made FraserFEST 2017 possible: Tides Canada, Sitka Foundation, Western Mining Association Network, Pacific Salmon Foundation, New Pathways to Gold Society, the City of New Westminster, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Creative Transportation Solutions, Hard Rock Vancouver Casino, River Rock Casino Resort, UFCWU, Move Up Together, the David Suzuki Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law Association, the City of Coquitlam, and Western Canoe Kayak.

Let’s remember the importance of our rivers, lakes, and creeks and the ecosystems they support as we get ready for World Rivers Day on Sunday, September 24. This will be the day the world celebrates our rivers—let’s give them something to celebrate.

Please commit to Watershed CPR. To take the RSBC’s Watershed Pledge visit and make that commitment today. Our rivers, salmon,and future generations need you.

Fin Donnelly is the chair & founder of the Rivershed Society of BC. The RSBC’s vision is salmon flourishing in rivers, people flourishing in riversheds. Our mission is to conserve, protect, and restore BC’s riversheds within a generation. Our two main programs are FraserFEST and the Sustainable Living Leadership Program.



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