Vanderhoof’s efforts on watershed education and sturgeon conservation received more support this year, thanks to the Mount Milligan Legacy Program.
With the new funding, the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative will be continuing its Emergency Sturgeon Live Release Boat Kit program.
Started in partnership with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in 2011, the program aims to reduce the deaths of sturgeon who were accidently caught in gill nets during fishing season.
In the past, fishers said they did not release accidentally-caught sturgeon because they did not know how to successfully release a live sturgeon, and the fish damages the net.
After a program pilot by Saik’uz and Tl’at’en First Nations, about 55 sturgeon were released alive by First Nation fishers between 2011 and 2015, with seven sturgeon mortalities reported from the accidental catch.
This year, the program is formally offered to seven First Nation communities in the region, including Takla, Saik’uz, Nak’azdli, Tl’azt’en, Nadleh Whut’en, Stellat’en, and Lheidli T’enneh.
“The funding provided by Mount Milligan to support of our ongoing sturgeon release program has been extremely valuable,” said Cory Williamson, hatchery manager of the Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre. “This year our First Nations partners have successfully released a total of six Nechako White Sturgeon from salmon fishing nets.
“The Mt Milligan contribution allows for an early start to planning this annual project and better coordination of the program — ultimately saving adult sturgeon from harm.”
Another group that benefited from the fund is the Nechako Environment and Water Stewardship Society, which purchased an Envision Groundwater model to educate students and the community on how human activity can affect the watershed.
To be used in community events and classroom presentations, the mobile model illustrates for kids how rainwater goes through the water system — through rivers, creeks, lakes, and soil — and how sewer and other pollutants can affect groundwater, explained NEWSS’ Brian Frenkel.
“The support that NEWSS receives from organizations such as the Mt Milligan Community committee helps us increase our educational capacity,” Frenkel said. “The aquifer model that we purchased with the help of Mt Milligan will help explain to students within School District 91 how aquifers are affected by rain, stream runoff and various land uses.”
These two projects marked the first-round benefactors of the mining company’s Community Project Fund, through which up to $10,000 of funding can be provided to groups and projects that build community capacity and focus on education, health, environment, community, or literacy.
Interested groups can apply year-round, with two intake deadlines on Feb. 1 and Aug. 1.
“Mount Milligan is very proud to be contributing to the continued success of both Nechako Environment & Water Stewardship Society and the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative through our Community Project Fund,” said Joanna Miller, spokesperson for the Mount Milligan and Endako mines. “The Fund is focused on supporting projects that building capacity within our local communities and have sustainable outcomes.
“Organizations interested in learning more about the Community Project Fund should visit the College of New Caledonia in either Fort St. James or Mackenzie, or email email@example.com.”