Regenerating Secwépemc territory

How Indigenous-led restoration is recovering fire-impacted ecosystems in central B.C.

Indigenous-led forest restoration in the Secwépemc territory

Nearly 200,000 hectares of Secwépemc territory near Kamloops, B.C. was burned in the Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017. The fire destroyed vast areas of forest habitat and left the land vulnerable to soil erosion and landslides. In some areas, the soil was so badly scorched that natural regrowth of trees and plants was impossible. “It was a really traumatic time”, recalls Angela Kane, president of the Secwépemcul’ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society (SRSS). “For some of our community members, they lost their homes, their land, and their way of life”. The SRSS was founded in response to the 2017 wildfire by eight Secwépemc bands who came together with a mission to promote a collective and collaborative approach to yecwemínem, or stewardship and caretakership.

In the aftermath of the wildfire, WWF-Canada joined forces with the SRSS in a multi-year partnership to take on several important projects, including reforesting Elephant Hill and adjacent fire-impacted areas, such as Sparks Lake, Flat Lake and others.

The approach

This project is Indigenous-led and advances Indigenous knowledge systems and approaches to forest management. The SRSS focuses on restoration that emphasizes ecological and cultural objectives, rather than economic ones, employing cultural values and food security as guiding principles in their work.


One of the key elements of restoring this region to a healthy forest ecosystem is planting deciduous trees. “When deciduous species are in place, we find that wildfires don’t burn as hot. [Deciduous trees] are like a fire break, and they help slow the fire down and in some cases, they will help stop the fire depending on how much water is absorbed in those trees at the time”, says Angela Kane. The collection and storage of deciduous seeds and seedlings is a challenge and key priority for the SRSS:

“There’s not a lot of people out there collecting these seeds. With [deciduous] seeds, you have to wait for the right time of year to collect the seeds, they need to be processed, dried, sorted and then stored for future use – and not all of them are going to germinate. It’s crucial for us, if we want to be able to access those species, to collect our own seeds. We’re in the process of looking at getting training for our community members in that process, we’re looking at creating our own collection program so that we can collect our own seeds specific to the area, and so that we can collect seeds specific to our communities”, explains Angela Kane.

What’s next

Since 2021, the SRSS has planted more than 550,000 trees with WWF-Canada’s support, restoring more than 200 hectares of forest ecosystems impacted by the wildfires. Over the next two years, the SRSS will have planted one million trees, as part of their goal to be planting ten million trees per year by 2030.

The SRSS team has big plans for the project over the coming years. The SRSS plans to create its own seed collection program and contribute to an Indigenous-owned nursery that will collect and store the seeds needed for reforesting the Secwépemc territory. “Our goal is to have access to our seedlings, to have cold storage, and to have our own seed collection process so that we’re a one-stop shop, and we don’t need to look outside for access to the plants we need for restoration. That is our end goal, to be self-sufficient,” says Angela Kane.

Building capacity for an Indigenous owned-and-operated forest restoration program is a ground-breaking project that will set an example for the world about what can be done when Indigenous Peoples take the lead in implementing nature-based climate solutions. WWF-Canada is proud to support restoration and stewardship work in a way that also advances reconciliation.

This work is generously supported by Aviva Canada, Lowe’s, Natural Resources Canada, the Peter Gilgan Foundation and the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation.