The Ahousaht First Nation is asking guides and adventurers who benefit from its traditional territory’s awe-inspiring surroundings to help foster the area’s natural beauty by contributing a stewardship fee each time they visit.
Ahousaht’s Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society is revitalizing its Stewardship Guardian Program and promoting a voluntary stewardship fee of $15 per guest, per trip, for anyone entering its territory.
“That $15 goes directly back into the stewardship society and the guardian program that we’re developing,” MHSS biologist and guardian program manager Danny O’Farrell told the Westerly News. “We feel that $15 is not very much to ask, especially because the money is going back into restoration projects that the whole community of Clayoquot Sound benefits from.”
He said Ahousaht is hoping to get support from businesses like whale watchers, kayak guides and fishing charters, as well as anyone else enjoying the territory.
“Not all operators have been into the idea, but many have been really supportive,” he said. “It’s a great initiative, I think more organizations need to jump on it and it’s just a matter of time.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the program can find more information at www.mhssahousaht.ca.
Ahousaht currently has several salmon habitat restoration projects on the way and O’Farrell suggested grant applications are often more likely to bear fruit if other funding sources, like revenues from the fee, can be highlighted.
“Given the population of Clayoquot salmon right now, we need as much help as we can get and all that money is going to go directly back into restoration projects,” he said, adding funding will also be put into training and education for local First Nations members. “The other big thing is increasing social capacity and education for Ahousaht members within the natural resource sector and providing them with opportunities…We want to increase the capacity of the guardian program and employ more Ahousaht members and other Nuu chah nulth members to work on these projects.”
Ryan Rogers is the owner/operator of Paddle West Kayaking Limited and an avid supporter of the stewardship fee program. He said local guides respected Ahousaht’s wishes to stay out of their territory last year due to COVID-19, though noted some individual kayakers explored around Vargas without knowing about Ahousaht’s request as BC Parks listed Vargas Island as open on its website.
“We were put in this position as local businesses operators of, do we just ignore this plea to help keep their village protected and safe and reduce the number of people coming near their village Maaqtusiis or develop something and respect that,” he said. “We all got together and respected those wishes and there came time this spring to start talking again and it’s great. We’re talking more than ever and developing a partnership is the goal.”
He said conversations around returning to Ahousaht territory heated up in the spring and noted a benefit of the pandemic has been the amount of communication it’s prompted.
“It’s really opened the doors for transparent communication and that’s been the pro,” he said.
He said Paddle West makes the $15 a day fee mandatory for any guests renting or taking one of the company’s tours.
“It means we respect the title and rights of the Ahousaht people by volunteering to do this program and believing. I truly believe in Ahousaht’s stewardship of Ahousaht Hahoulthlee,” he said, adding reactions to the additional fee have been mixed.
“It is something new and whenever you add anything new to something or a change to what has been done, there will be friction. But, I appreciate being in a position to explain what the funds are going to,” he said. “Once you explain what the funds are going to, what it’s supporting, what you get for that fee, like these pristine beaches and territory to paddle in, then usually people are on board.”
He said he’s been grateful to become an ambassador and permitting agent for the program, helping to spread the word about what it supports and how to participate.
He said his company offers a six hour day-trip to Vargas and added the area is popular for guide training exercises.
“It’s definitely for an experienced paddler, somebody wanting a bit more adventure out of a day trip, it’s invaluable to go out there. To take somebody from who knows where in the world out to a remote sandy beach to have lunch and get a glimpse of real ocean paddling. The landings here don’t compare to anywhere else, the big beautiful pristine sandy beaches,” he said. “Being able to be safe on the inside and yet poke your nose out into real West Coast paddling, that’s what that territory offers to us as kayakers….It’s really important for guide training because you have the safety net of being able to come into the protected waters quickly, still lead a good trip, and then on those good days you take people out for real West Coast paddling.”
He added that the MHSS program has helped him contribute to reconciliation as a business and as a person.
“They’ve allowed our companies an avenue to support and give back with the MHSS Stewardship Guardian Program. They’ve opened a window for us to create a partnership,” he said. “It’s the beginning of something great is how I am viewing this. It’s a new way of working together.”