Forum for Dialogue and Learning
Tuesday, November 22, 2022

At a time when we are faced with so much negative news from falling salmon numbers, to illegal logging in old growth forests, it is a relief and pleasure to hear some good news here on the North Shore. It has been just over a year since UNESCO announced Canada’s 19th biosphere region – Howe Sound, known as Átl’ka7tsem (pronounced at-Kat-sum) in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), the region has a rich environmental and indigenous culture. The marine and terrestrial resources of the Sound are now internationally monitored and protected.

Our panelists represented business, the indigenous community, and the conservation groups involved in stewardship of this reserve. The Forum was moderated by Enhance West Van Board Director Sandy Treagus.


  • Ruth Simons – Executive Director, Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society
  • Kilian Stehfest – Marine Conservation Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation
  • Chris Lewis – Director of Indigenous Initiatives & Reconciliation, Simon Fraser University
  • Kirby Brown – General Manager, Sea to Sky Gondola

Ruth Simons of the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society. spoke about the importance of succession planning to ensure that the Biosphere remains financially sustainable.

UNESCO protection does not prevent development in the area, but does make sure that human activity respects wildlife corridors, and does minimal harm to sensitive eco-systems. She asked home owners to take control of their properties, to ensure they do no damage.

She asked residents to initiate conservation conversations that share local success stories like the sighting of humpback whales and the discovery of glass coral beds.

“Don’t wait for big groups to make big plans. Many people making small, incremental changes, CAN make a difference,” she explained.

Dr. Kilian Stehfest of the David Suzuki Foundation outlined some of the scientific research and education projects being planned. He spoke of the importance of “citizen research” to monitor more areas of the sound, and how residents must hold Government accountable for enforcing laws and regulations.

Chris Lewis discussed how indigenous communities can bring their local knowledge to support Western science, and how the land and the water are one rather than separate jurisdictions.

Chatting afterwards to fellow residents and local business owners like Kirby Brown, many participants expressed their commitment to balancing development needs with practical environmental protection.

Thank you to our Panelists for sharing their time and knowledge, and to our guests for their interest.

About the region

The biosphere covers an area of 2,187 square kilometres northwest of Vancouver, surrounding the community of Squamish and extending west to the Sunshine Coast. The area is B.C.’s third biosphere, the others are Clayoquot Sound and Mount Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island.

The Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound watershed includes a majestic fjord perched spectacularly on the edge of Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s landscape is dramatically scenic and encompasses remarkably diverse habitats capable of supporting a vast variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife.

Industrial fishing, forestry and mining throughout the 20th century, despoiled Howe Sound’s ecosystems. In the 1990s, a series of conservation efforts began and after 25+ years, these efforts have resulted in an unprecedented ecological recovery.

Herring and salmon are returning again. Dolphins, orcas, grey whales and humpback whales have come home to the Sound after almost a century’s absence! The glass sponge reefs that are found throughout the region were once thought to be extinct.

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