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Big Bar Slide Emergency Response

Collaborating On Shared Priorities During an Emergency 


THE CHALLENGE: On June 23, 2019, a massive rock slide was discovered in a remote section of the Fraser River.  More than 100,000 m3 of rock from a canyon wall had crashed into the Fraser River in the traditional territory of the Secwepemc Nation near Big Bar, BC. The slide blocked the passage of several Pacific salmon runs to spawning grounds further up the Fraser and its tributaries, threatening these runs with extinction.

THE CHANGE MAKERS: Pushing red tape aside, over 30 Indigenous communities and Tribal Councils worked with federal and provincial government agencies in a race against time to save hundreds of thousands of returning salmon and protect future runs. An Executive Steering Committee (JESC) comprising First Nations, federal and provincial government representatives was established. Along with technical working groups, the JESC developed three alternative fish passage options: 1) a “nature-like” fishway, 2) a fish pump system and 3) human-assisted transport (e.g., via helicopters).

THE OUTCOMES: In concert with rock debris removal and implementation of fish passage measures, First Nations and community partners established and operated a hatchery enhancement program to increase the number of salmon fry released into the river. In 2022, the swift early and collaborative action of all involved yielded tangible results: more than 1.9 million salmon were able move past the landslide site.

Collaborative efforts continue to monitor, adapt and plan for long-term solutions for landslides along the Fraser River. Lessons learned from the Big Bar event and response will help decision-makers, researchers and interested parties better understand the potential risk of future landslides. The new information will allow for better preparation, effective and coordinated emergency response, and sustainability of wild Pacific salmon populations across the province.  Without question, this story is a compelling example of how First Nations and other orders of government can collaborate in respectful and action-focused ways during a very challenging time.



Photo Credit: Province of BC

Photo Description: DNA sample collection at French Bar Creek near Big Bar landslide site