Changing Planet

British Columbia Bans Oil and Gas Development in Sacred Headwaters

By Paul Colangelo, International League of Conservation Photographers

Blockades, arrests, sit-ins, protests. Swimming a 355-mile river, living in the wilderness for months at a time. Music festivals, art shows, traveling exhibits, school programs. Singing, dancing, praying. For a decade, the people of British Columbia along with many supporters from around the world made these efforts to protect the Sacred Headwaters, a pristine wilderness in northwestern B.C. that is the headwaters of three major salmon rivers, the Stikine, Skeena and Nass.

The Sacred Headwaters means many different things to the people fighting for it. To some, it is a place interwoven with their history, culture and identity. To others, it is the heart of an ecological system on which their livelihood depends. It is a place some people visit to escape the world we have created and explore wilderness. And to others still, it represents the struggle to reach a balance between industry and conservation. But the common thread among these people is the recognition the Sacred Headwaters is one place we must protect and honor.

The response to a decade of work came yesterday, when the B.C. government announced a permanent ban on oil and gas exploration in the Sacred Headwaters. This is an historic event for the region and an inspiration for the world – it is possible to have your voice heard and protect what is sacred to you.

The work will continue, as this ban does not affect the mineral and coal mines proposed for the Sacred Headwaters, but for now, we celebrate.

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Bonda Lewis

    Bless you all, bless the work. Honor to you.

  • Gary

    It’s amazing what people can do when they don’t sell their democracy off to the highest bidder. Unlike their de-evolving, corrupted neighbor to the South, Canada’s publicly financed elections are sensible, transparent and responsible to its citizenry. No “Citizen’s United” Supreme Court here. If you live in the states and would like Canada’s style of publicly finance elections in the USA, then go to the non-profit website “” and sign the petition.

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