The first time Mandy Gull visited Canada's Broadback Forest, she was impressed by the displays of delicate lichen. By the dense old trees. Across the mossy floor that rose and fell like a rumpled green blanket.
"There is an energy in this kind of forest that I don't think you can find anywhere," said Gull, a member of the First Cree Nation of Waswanipi, Quebec, and deputy chief of the Great Crees Council. "You have to go there and see and feel."
1:25 PM, November 5, 2019
An earlier version of this article said that Meares Island is on the coast of Victoria Island. It is on the coast of Vancouver Island.
Tucked away on the south coast of Hudson Bay, Broadback is home to old spruces and three endangered caribou herds. It has great significance for Cree Waswanipi, which is why they are trying to save him since deforestation has already disrupted 90% of its traditional hunting grounds, including the trapline used by the Gull family for generations.
"We are so proud of our culture and so proud of our territory," she said. "We have to fight for the things that are at risk."
More than 600 indigenous communities live in Canada's boreal forest, one of the last large areas of unspoilt nature on Earth. But every year, one million acres fall on logging and paper products, including toilet paper sold in the US, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That is seven hockey rinks & # 39; Forest valley every minute.
Canada's First Nations, with the help of groups such as the NRDC and Greenpeace, want to stop the losses and protect the lands on which their ancestors had depended for centuries – or more.
Similar efforts around the world will be critical to meeting the world's climate goals, experts say.
The Broadback Watershed
(Los Angeles Times)
Forests retain – and continually absorb – large amounts of carbon, which would otherwise heat the planet in the form of carbon dioxide or methane. And a growing body of scientific evidence shows that indigenous peoples and other collective communities tend to do a better job of keeping forests and their carbon stocks intact.
"Indigenous people generally have this worldview of relating in harmony with nature," he said. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and a member of the Igorot people of the Philippines. "This is the main source of their own survival and also of identities."
Indigenous peoples often use the land to keep trees upright – for example, by harvesting fruits and nuts instead of wood. Techniques such as controlled burning, intelligent grazing practices, and paying close attention to natural processes have helped people to manage their land over the years.
The Broadback Watershed contains some of the last old-growth boreal forests in the Cree territory of Waswanipi.
(Joshua Bertolino / © Joshua Bertolino / Greenpeace)
As a result, community-managed land maintains approximately 300 billion tons of carbon – about half the amount humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Canada's boreal forest and the soil below it contain approximately 12 percent of the world's terrestrial carbon, said Jennifer Skene, an NRDC environmental lawyer.
"It's our tremendous ally in the fight against climate change," she said. "This carbon has to get stuck there if we want to avoid the worst impacts."
But indigenous peoples and the forests in which they live face increasing threats. In Canada, the danger comes from logging (although the government indicates that trees will grow back), as well as fires and fossil fuel development. In Brazil, it is a push for more pastures. In Indonesia, it's growing demand for palm oil.
A worker carries palm tree seedlings to be planted in a peat burned area in Riau province, Indonesia. Demand for palm oil is a major cause of deforestation there.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
In total, the planet is losing a UK-sized forest area every year, according to a recent review by a coalition of environmental groups. And new pressures come all the time. Recent Studies found that drug cartels are driving new patterns of deforestation across Central America. They displace indigenous and rural people who live along their trafficking routes and finance destructive activities, such as clearing land for agriculture, to launder money.
Indigenous peoples often have limited options to ward off invasion. Although communities use and manage almost half of the world's land area, they own only about one tenth of it, he said. Alain Frechette, nonprofit researcher Rights and Resources Initiative.
Sometimes outsiders gain strength in subtle ways. For example, they got married in communities and then took control, he said. Anne Larson, which studies land rights in the International Center for Forest Research.
Other times, the land grabbers initiate a full attack. In July, dozens of armed prospectors invaded a village Wai˜ãpi in the Brazilian Amazon, killing an elder and forcing everyone to flee.
Global Witness human rights group estimated that 164 indigenous activists and other environmental advocates worldwide were murdered last year Trying to protect your land.
Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist and indigenous leader, was killed in 2016 after protesting against the development of dams in Honduras.
(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
In many cases, threats to indigenous lands are sanctioned by the state. Governments often issue licenses for companies to exploit or log on to indigenous territories. "They still see it as an idle land that is not being used and can be productive," Larson said.
However, research shows that granting formal rights to indigenous groups for their land is one of the most effective ways to support communities and conserve the forest.
For example, a study tracked what happened in the Peruvian Amazon after indigenous groups received official titles from their lands. Using satellite imagery to estimate forest loss, the researchers found that deforestation rates fell by 75% over the next two years. Other comprehensive analysis showed that safe land rights were significantly correlated with forest preservation – or even gain – in South America, Central America, and Africa.
Rights are not a silver bullet, but they do guarantee people that they can reap the benefits of sustainable forest management without having to resort to extractive industries for short-term profits, Larson said. In California, the Yurok tribe made money from its forest preservation efforts by selling carbon credits through the state's trading program.
Rights also give communities legal legitimacy to reject invaders – as long as rights are respected and enforced by the government.
"The title is one thing, but knowing that the title will be retained … this piece must be there too," he said. Maggie holland, geographer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Over the past 15 years, the formally owned area of indigenous and local communities around the world has increased by half a million square kilometers, Frechette said. (This is an area almost twice the size of Texas.) He estimates that simply enforcing existing laws in four countries – Indonesia, India, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – more than double.
In recent years, there has been a wave of international support for indigenous rights, not only in humanitarian terms, but for the sake of the global environment. Over the summer, a high-profile report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the need to empower indigenous peoples to meet international climate goals.
Pope Francis walks in a procession at the beginning of a three-week meeting in October on preserving the Amazon rainforest and ministering to the native people.
(Andrew Medichini / Associated Press)
Up until the pope recently defended the protection of indigenous peoples in the Amazon and its forests, warning of the "greed for new forms of colonialism" and drawing fire from some neighborhoods of the Catholic community who view indigenous cultures as pagan.
But Gull said he has not yet seen global leaders truly embrace indigenous perspectives. She noted the lack of indigenous voices at the recent UN Climate Action Summit in New York, which she attended.
"If governments really want to make a serious change, they need to control themselves and listen to what indigenous people are saying," she said. "Stop saying it on their behalf and ask what they think."
Businesses and buyers also need to consider the role of commerce in promoting deforestation and, by extension, climate change, Tauli-Corpuz said. After all, it is the demand for products like palm oil, beef and toilet paper that makes cutting trees profitable in the first place.
"Many of the products they consume come from forests where the rights of indigenous peoples are violated and that are not managed and controlled in a sustainable manner," she said.
Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest in southeastern Peru, where illegal gold mining is causing deforestation, even near indigenous communities.
(Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty Images)
Gull sees some signs of progress in Canada, where it was illegal for indigenous people to sue the government for land claims.
Part of Broadback is already safe from logging, and the Cree are negotiating with the Quebec government to transform most of the river basin into a conversation area that they would help to manage.
"It's a very good, very positive discussion," said Michel Arés, assistant manager of Waswanipi Forestry …