Wade Davis Challenges “Tsunami of Development” in Northern British Columbia

Wade Davis wants to save an area of British Columbia known by the first nations as the sacred headwaters, where the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass rivers originate.

His book, The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass, serves to do just that. Born and raised in British Columbia, Davis left to be educated at Harvard and upon return worked as a park ranger in the Stikine Valley. This experience only contributed to his familiarity with the area. He has lived and worked in the region as a park ranger, guide, and anthropologist at least part-time since 1978. He and his wife own the closest private holding to the sacred headwaters, the Wolf Creek Lodge. He raised his two daughters in Washington, D.C. during the winters and at the lodge in the B.C. wilderness in summers.

Davis identified two key projects threatening the area as part of a larger “tsunami of development” in Northern B.C. The Red Chris Mine, an open-pit copper and gold mine proposed by Imperial Metals, and a plan to extract coal bed methane gas by Royal Dutch Shell are the two biggest threats in the area. He wishes to see the area made into a travel-tourism destination instead.

He believes that the Sacred Headwaters could follow the example of Haida Gwaii, a once little-known area that now has become an iconic destination for people around the world. The headwaters have similar potential to attract visitors and tourism would not destroy the land as industrial development could.

As an anthropologist, Davis has studied and written about the diminishing cultural diversity in the world, and says his upbringing taught him that trees and forests are “mere cellulose” there to be cut down. To the people of the first nations, this is not the case. The forests are full of animal spirits embodying the wisdom of the wild.

“Whether it’s true or not is not the point,” Davis said. “Because we believe those forest are mere cellulose, we tore them asunder for three generations, while the first nations lived a different way with a different footprint for generations.

“What should concern us is the outcome.”

He says most Canadians, who are “awash in a luxury of landscapes,” have not seen the pristine wilderness of remote B.C., where there is only one road, and that one road wasn’t built until the 1970s.

“This is an extremely wild, remarkable landscape,” Davis said, adding that when he first arrived, he fell in love with the country and ultimately made connections with the first nations elders there. “We felt the Canadian people should have some say in what is being done in the North.” Because the people won’t or can’t come to the place, “we brought the place to the people,” in the form of the book, he said.

The Sacred Headwaters includes a collection of photographs by Carr Clifton and members of the International League of Conservation Photographers, including Claudio Contreras, Paul Colangelo and Wade Davis. Davis’s writing describes the area, the threats to it and the response of the first nations groups and elders in the region.

Instead of allowing industrial development to go ahead just because it can, the Canadian people should be taking charge of the development and dictating its terms. The people should be deciding where to develop and at what pace, at what cost to the environment and for whose benefit the development will occur.