British Columbia: Sacred Headwaters

Sacred HeadwatersThis sprawling system of alpine meadows in northwestern British Columbia, east of Highway 37, is where three First Nations believe Raven created the world — essentially the Garden of Eden — and is also the headwaters of three major salmon-bearing rivers: the Skeena, Nass and Stikine.

When a group of scientists inventoried all the world’s wild places, the Sacred Headwaters rose to the top as the most resilient in the face of climate change. In other words, the caribou, moose, grizzly bear, wolf and salmon populations are healthy and sustainable in the long term. Its three major rivers are home to abundant salmon populations that migrate high into the headwaters and inject $110 million into the local economy annually.

Not only is this a rich wild land, it is also rich in natural resources. Despite objections from just about every group, community and organization along the three rivers, Fortune Minerals wants to mine Klappan Mountain for coal and Imperial Metals is eying a nearby area for the Red Chris gold and copper mine. (Royal Dutch Shell is was recently blocked from implementing their proposed coal bed methane project in the Klappan Valley.)

Just about everyone in the region sees these and other such projects as a threat to salmon populations and Wildlife, either directly or from water contamination. But objections from the nine impacted First Nations ring the loudest: elders have been arrested for blockading access to a region their ancestors have relied on for millennia and that they continue to use for sustenance and spiritual purposes.

Since the only access to the Sacred Headwaters is by air, hoof or foot, probably the easiest Way to explore the heart of it is with tour operator Spatsizi Wilderness Vacations. With three camps in Spatsizi Plateau Provincial Park, this company offers several weeklong fly-in trips with a mix of activities including horseback riding, hiking and fly fishing. But the highlight of 2013 is a weeklong trip in August, the height of wild-flower season, with ethno—botanist, author, photographer and Sacred Headwaters expert Dr. Wade Davis. Based at the main Spatsizi Lodge, Davis will lead day-trips into the wildlife-rich Eaglenest Range by horseback or foot. Since he literally wrote the book on the area, The Sacred Headwaters, expect to see and learn a lot, including the names of all the wild-flowers lining the trail.