© Jordan Lee Landscape of mountain and forest


An Indigenous-led, watershed approach to habitat restoration

The Katzie people and salmon: ‘They’re precious to us’

The Katzie First Nation people have always shared a deep connection with the salmon that flow through the Upper Pitt watershed, on the unceded territory of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge in B.C.

“Every year, the first salmon we catch… some of the nations in the valley do a big ceremony, where hundreds of people come,” says Rick Bailey, elected member of council of Katzie First Nation. “You do that so that the salmon family come back. It’s a sacred thing. They’re precious to us.”

Salmon numbers in the region have been declining dramatically in recent years. A landslide in 2019 filled in the Upper Pitt River’s Blue Creek with debris and added additional pressure to an already threatened chinook population. Katzie First Nation led a restoration plan with partners, including WWF-Canada, to restore and create adequate spawning and rearing habitat, remove blockages and help reconnect the salmon’s pathways — and the salmon returned, within weeks.

That success sparked a long-term partnership with a commitment to expand ecosystem-level restoration efforts in the region.

© Eden Toth Boots in the mud

Our approach

Restoration efforts at specific sites are prioritized by Katzie First Nation and the team using a watershed-level approach. In parallel, environmental assessments and monitoring are underway to understand how these efforts are benefiting the watershed as a whole, and to inform future plans. This multi-year restoration initiative is one of the largest of its kind in British Columbia, increasing carbon sequestration in the watershed and benefiting not only salmon, but also birds, amphibians, beaver and elk.

While this work has vast benefits for nature, climate and people, it is driven by one primary goal: to help salmon thrive. “Every little creature matters,” Bailey says, “but for us, here, it’s always been about the salmon.” In addition to its cultural significance for the Katzie community, salmon play a key role in the food chain of the Lower Fraser River watershed — it’s a major food source for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, of which only 73 remain.

As this work is Nation-led, WWF-Canada is working with Katzie First Nation to identify and support training needs and opportunities for Katzie members. Community capacity building has included training in habitat restoration, soil carbon measurement and direct participation in restoration activities such as planting to revegetate riverbanks.

‘One of the highlights of my life’

Kerrie Charnley, an assistant professor of teaching at UBC Okanagan and a Katzie First Nation member, was thrilled to learn about the opportunity to restore the Upper Pitt River – home to her ancestors.

“It was one of the highlights of my life,” says Charnley, of the four-day restoration and planting excursion in the fall of 2021. “As a Katzie person,… we’re all about the reciprocal relationship with nature. Taking care of the life that takes care of us.”

She had heard stories from her grandmother and family elders about the sacred area — and how the sockeye salmon are a matriarch in her family.

The first time she saw the flashing flickers of baby salmon in the pools of water, she felt an instant spiritual connection – one that remains with her still. “For them to be there, in those puddles… They represent resilience and strength — just like the Katzie people.”


Though the salmon have returned, the issues that caused the area’s salmon numbers to dwindle are still present. Logging roads have disconnected historical watercourses, preventing access to spawning and rearing habitat and disrupting flow — a key contributor to ecosystem health. Clear-cutting in the watershed increases the risk of landslides that can damage important habitat, such as the one witnessed in 2019.

Pacific salmon are facing many additional threats which contribute to population declines including overfishing, pollution, and climate change. Warming ocean waters and streams threaten salmon survival and climate change is causing extreme weather events that hammer already fragile ecosystem.

© Jordan Lee Landscape of mountain and water

What’s next

Together, WWF-Canada and Katzie First Nation will continue to rebuild and regenerate healthy ecosystems that support salmon populations, increasing biodiversity and carbon stores.

These efforts are part of WWF-Canada’s bold 10-year plan to restore local habitats that will support wildlife and prevent ecosystem carbon loss, and advance the rights of Indigenous groups that have stewarded the land for millennia.

“When we’re able to work with partners on the ground to combine science and Indigenous practices and knowledge, that’s when magic happens,” says Heather Crochetiere, senior specialist with WWF-Canada.