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Different Forms of Knowledge and Collaboration – The Touchstones for Integrated Natural Resource Management

DATE: February 25, 2021

On behalf of Stratos, I had the pleasure to be part of a multidisciplinary panel of experts, led by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), that was charged to study and report on the State of Knowledge and Practice of Integrated Approaches to Natural Resource Management in Canada. This is the first time that practitioners and academics across Canada came together to define and develop a framework for integrated natural resource management (INRM).  The Panel defined INRM as “a way of managing human activities and natural resources that weighs and integrates multiple land uses, rights, needs, ways of knowing, and values across jurisdictional, temporal, and spatial scales to achieve environmental, economic, social, and cultural objectives” (Council of Canadian Academies, 2019). What makes INRM effective is that it:

  • Encompasses several dimensions of integration (spatial, temporal, jurisdictional)
  • Applies different sources and forms of knowledge
  • Involves more inclusive forms of governance

If a single phrase can be used to state what the Panel found, it is that more inclusive and collaborative approaches to analysis, decision-making and management of natural resources lead to better outcomes that that are meaningful, supported and lasting.

Canada needs to better manage its natural resources

Canada has a wealth of natural resources, including forests, agricultural land and deposits of oil, natural gas and minerals, as well as the wildlife that inhabit terrestrial and marine areas. Humans have derived economic value from these resources for thousands of years. Canada’s approach to managing these resources has been evolving, however, in response to environmental trends (e.g. climate change), political shifts (e.g. conflicts over rights and competing uses, the desire of affected interests for a greater say in decision-making) and social trends (e.g. growing societal concerns about the impacts of human activity on ecological integrity).  Significantly, the reconciliation agenda has highlighted the legal and ethical imperative to both respect Indigenous peoples’ rights and learn from their approaches to managing lands, waters and wildlife. Integrated natural resource management offers solutions to balancing diverse rights and land-use values.

We have some good examples of integrated natural resource management in Canada, but not many. Those that do exist are not applied consistently across the country. Jurisdictions across Canada manage lands and resources very differently – while some are effective, others have lost the confidence of the public at large and of Indigenous peoples and affected interests. The CCA report provides an opportunity for jurisdictions to improve their management of lands and resources by sharing lessons.

Four lessons on INRM

1. Policy, land use plans and strategic environmental assessments are essential enablers for more efficient and effective project-level decision-making

The Panel found that in Canada, governments, rights holders, and affected interests, including industry, are overly focused on decision-making at the project level. The Panel concluded that “INRM calls for higher-order decision-making that embraces land-use planning and strategic assessment at regional scales, enabling better and more efficient decision-making at project-specific stages.” INRM emphasizes the importance of clear government policy and land-use plans to set the direction for appropriate use of land, including natural resource development. In addition, INRM recommends following up decisions about land-use with assessments of cumulative effects through the use of strategic regional assessments, particularly in areas under development pressure. Effective use of government policy and land-use planning, coupled with strategic regional assessments can inform more effective and more efficient project-level reviews and decision-making.

2. Different “ways of knowing” need to be applied in all aspects on INRM

INRM focuses on different ways of knowing and applying knowledge to decision-making on natural resources. The Panel focused on the importance of bridging western science with Indigenous knowledge. Both have merit in the domain of natural resource management, and both must be respected for what they bring to decision-making and management practices. Effective bridging of different forms of knowledge respects each way of knowing, and facilitates linkages and communication across forms and sources of knowledge.

3. Inclusive and collaborative forms of governance produce decisions that endure

Decisions cannot be taken in silos if we want to effectively manage our natural resources, yet government agencies and regulators have tended to hold decision-making powers closely. The Panel characterized a spectrum of governance approaches (see Figure 1), noting that (depending on the circumstances) it may be appropriate to employ consultative, collaborative or shared decision-making processes.  However, the Panel found that shared decision-making produces more effective outcomes in situations involving overlapping rights and competing resource use interests, with parties seeing more meaningful outcomes, supporting the decisions taken and feeling more ready to play a role in implementing decisions.

Where there are clear asserted or agreed Indigenous rights, shared decision-making is often appropriate and effective. For example, arising out of the land-claims agreements in the Northwest Territories, the establishment of several co-management bodies has proven to be effective at securing lasting agreement on how lands and resources are managed. Co-management provides a very direct mechanism through which Indigenous groups can be involved in the co-design of policies and processes, share decision-making with other governments, and exercise shared accountability for the management of natural resources (including regulatory and monitoring roles).

4. Bridging the work and insights of academics and practitioners

Finally, the Panel found that there is a gap between knowledge generated through academic scholarship and that gained through practice. Panel members from different backgrounds experienced directly the benefits of academics and practitioners as they worked together. This was evidenced through the very different perspectives parties held around the history of Gwaii Haanas National Reserve, an area that once was scheduled to be logged in the 1980s. Co-management of the Haida Gwaii Nation lands and the National Reserve has evolved since 1993, following the declaration of the Haida Heritage Site by the Haida Gwaii Nation. The original literature research done by the Panel missed important foundational understandings, including the fact that the lands lacked a signed treaty, leading the Haida Nation to express its rights on these lands. This then provided the basis for negotiations by the Haida Nation with other governments (Canada, British Columbia) and the forest industry. Panelists learned this not from existing academic research but by going to the source – Haida Gwaii Hereditary Chief Guujaaw – who in 1993 led the Nation in asserting its rights and then negotiating the co-management agreements with Parks Canada Agency.

Stratos was pleased to have George Greene invited to be a member of the expert Panel. Stratos will be deploying the insights gained from the CCA report findings for its work supporting federal/provincial/territorial and Indigenous governments to achieve Canada’s biodiversity conservation targets, as well as its work supporting mining, energy and agriculture companies to stewards lands and resources responsibly.

George Greene is the Founding Chair at Stratos. As one of Canada’s most respected sustainability leaders, he provides strategic advice and practical recommendations. He has over 40 years of experience in policy, governance, and management of natural resources and the environment with a particular focus on energy, mining and nature conservation. He is also a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Environment, University of Ottawa.

For more information about Stratos’s work on natural resource management, please contact George Greene.

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