Skagit Valley

Sierra Club BC 50 Places Project

The Skagit Valley in southwestern BC contains lush forests and wetlands nestled among the towering Cascade Mountains. It provides habitat for grizzly bears and hundreds of species of birds including the endangered northern spotted owl. The Skagit River is home to an important Chinook salmon run, a primary food source for endangered southern resident orca whales.

Indigenous peoples have stewarded the ecological diversity of this area since time immemorial. The Skagit headwaters are considered the territories of the Nlaka’pamux, Stó:lō, and Upper Skagit people. Syilx, Similkameen (Okanagan) and Nooksack peoples have used the area as well. The name “Skagit” comes from the Upper Skagit people’s name for their language, “sqajit ucid.”

For thousands of years, this unceded Indigenous territory has been a gateway for travel and trade between different ecological areas and cultural groups. It’s been an important place for hunting, trapping, and gathering of important resources like plants, stone and medicines that could not be found elsewhere.

Colonization and a gold rush in the Skagit brought devastating impacts on Indigenous peoples’ ways of life. Following this, the mid-twentieth century saw the valley become a prime recreation area. The trails many people enjoy hiking today including the Skyline, Centennial and Whatcom trails were all established by Indigenous peoples.

In 1967, the BC government quietly agreed with the Seattle City Lights company to build a dam that would flood the upper Skagit Valley to provide hydroelectricity to the growing city.

In 1969, the Sierra Club of British Columbia was founded by advocates including Ken Farquharson who had their eyes set on protecting the valley. This helped create linkages with advocates south of the border who also wanted to stop the flooding. Members of Sierra Club BC, the BC Wildlife Federation, the Alpine Club of Canada and a number of other outdoor and natural history groups established the ROSS (Run Out Skagit Spoilers) committee.

For 16 years, Sierra Club BC continued to oppose the flooding. Having worked on a number of BC Hydro’s dams as an engineer, Ken Farquharson’s knowledge was instrumental in convincing BC’s provincial cabinet to direct BC Hydro to provide Seattle with sufficient power from a different source. Finally, BC and Seattle reached an agreement to cancel the plans. The Skagit River Treaty was signed in 1984 between Canada and the US, creating the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission to conserve the area’s ecological values.

After continued lobbying, the BC government announced in 1995 that the Skagit Valley would be upgraded from a Recreation Area to a Class A Provincial Park.

In 2018, the area was again threatened by industrial logging and new proposals for mining projects in the Donut Hole, a sensitive unprotected area between the Skagit Valley and Manning provincial parks. Sierra Club BC called on the BC government to deny Imperial Metals’ proposal to drill in the Skagit headwaters and ban clearcut logging in the Donut Hole.

In December 2019, in response to pressure from environmental groups and Seattle’s mayor, the BC government announced that clearcut logging would be banned in the Donut Hole. However, mining still threatens the Donut Hole.

50 Places, 50 Stories

Sierra Club BC’s 50 Places Project celebrates stories of conservation across BC. As Sierra Club BC marks 50 years of conservation work, we raise our hands to the longstanding Indigenous stewards of 50 special places in BC. 

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