BY BILL PHILLIPS
A never-before-used section of the Species at Risk Act has been enacted in an attempt to preserve the southern mountain caribou.
Section 11 of the Species at Risk Act enables a federal minister to enter into an agreement with any other government in Canada, organization, or person to benefit a species at risk or enhance its survival in the wild.
As a result, Ottawa and Victoria have developed a draft conservation agreement to support southern mountain caribou recovery, starting with the population known as the Central Group. The agreement sets out short-, medium- and long-term targets and immediate caribou recovery measures in the Central Group and it aims to reverse the population decline.
“We are committed to working with British Columbia, Indigenous peoples, as well as with stakeholders, to develop science-based approaches to recovering caribou, while continuing to support economic development and job creation,” said federal environment minister Catherine McKenna, in a press release.
British Columbia has committed to recovering southern mountain caribou by establishing population objectives and improving its overall legislative framework for species at risk. Recovery actions include range planning, habitat protection and restoration, as well as population management, including maternity penning and access control to sensitive caribou habitat. British Columbia will also lead in establishing a restoration fund under the agreement to support recovery actions for southern mountain caribou.
The draft agreement includes several conservation measures, including a commitment from B.C. to identify and reserve all untenured, winter and summer, high-elevation caribou range, and develop range plans in consultation with directly affected First Nations.
The move is being hailed by the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, however, the group is concerned that there is no specific mention of low-elevation or matrix habitats in the government’s media materials.
“With only 219 caribou remaining in the South Peace region, meaningful federal involvement in mountain caribou conservation is both welcome, and long overdue,” said Candace Batycki, B.C. and Yukon program director for Y2Y. “Both governments have been foot-dragging on this issue for years, while the animals continue to decline. We’re on the edge of losing caribou forever in this area.”
The Y2Y group is calling for:
- No new habitat destruction in high elevation winter range and summer range as set out in the 2014 federal recovery strategy;
- Ensuring that at least 65 per cent of low elevation winter range be undisturbed (including disturbance buffers); and
- Where these thresholds have been exceeded, the parties must commit to a restoration process with meaningful, achievable targets and timeframes, as well as significant investment into a restoration trust fund adequate to achieve restoration targets.
The Burnt Pine herd has completely disappeared, says Y2Y and despite efforts by West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, the continued erosion of habitat from logging and fossil fuel development has hampered caribou recovery.
“The Peace has suffered intense industrial impacts, which continue unabated to this day,” said Tim Burkhart, Peace Region coordinator for Y2Y. “Any new caribou recovery plan must decisively address this ongoing destruction of critical habitat. We look forward to working with all governments to ensure the measures taken are strong enough to actually do the job.”
“Along with our Indigenous and federal partners, we will work closely with industry and other stakeholders to effectively reverse the decline in caribou and restore people’s faith that responsible, sustainable resource development can occur in B.C.,” said B.C. environment minister George Heyman.
Canada and British Columbia are also discussing partnership opportunities with directly affected First Nations in the recovery of caribou. Following consultations with Indigenous communities and stakeholders, Ottawa and Victoria are expecting to conclude their negotiations on the draft agreement over the next several months and release a final agreement in the spring of 2018.
The draft agreement outlines the commitments that will put southern mountain caribou on a positive trajectory, according to Heyman. It acknowledges that the long-term goal is to achieve self-sustaining populations in the Central Group, consistent with the outcomes set out in the southern mountain caribou recovery strategy. Once the final agreement is in place, the intention is to expand the agreement to other southern mountain caribou groups in British Columbia.