BY BILL PHILLIPS
Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier is calling on Victoria to cancel its federally-mandated plan to deal with declining caribou herds in northeastern B.C.
“We are talking about significant job loss as a direct result of the Horgan caribou plan that never bothered to take the public’s concerns seriously,” said Bernier, in a news release, after delivering a petition he says has 30,000 signatures calling on a halt to the process. “People are deeply concerned that they will lose their jobs and be shut out of the backcountry without even having had the chance to tell government how the plan will impact their lives.”
Provincial and federal officials have so far held a half-dozen public meetings across the north, the latest being Tuesday in Prince George where 600 people attended. More input sessions are planned in the Interior and the Kootenays.
While the Liberals are now applying political pressure in Victoria, this isn’t a new issue. The southern mountain caribou were listed as a threatened wildlife species under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2003 when the Liberals were in power.
In 2012 a federal recovery strategy called on provinces and territories to develop range plans within three to five years (i.e. by October 2017) to demonstrate how they will protect the species’ critical habitat under their jurisdiction. The previous Liberal government did not complete that work. In May 2018, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, determined that southern mountain caribou are facing imminent threats to their recovery. Under the Species at Risk Act, the federal cabinet has the ability to enact orders that would protect caribou and their habitat from further development and disturbance. The process underway now is an attempt to find a “made-in-B.C.” solution.
Two draft agreements have been developed under section 11 of the federal Species at Risk Act. A draft section 11 agreement between British Columbia and Canada sets a framework for co-operation between the two governments to recover southern mountain caribou.
A draft partnership agreement between B.C., Canada, West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations proposes specific habitat protection and restoration measures to recover the central group herds of southern mountain caribou.
The plan calls for an interim moratorium on new industrial and commercial development in some areas until a long term plan is developed and a moratorium in some other areas until a designated protected area is developed.
“Government officials have confirmed that the forest and possibly mining industries will suffer most,” Bernier said. “Our region can’t afford the potential shutdown of the mill in Chetwynd or the mine in Tumbler Ridge simply because the goal of John Horgan’s caribou plan is to simply meet an artificial deadline set by the federal government.”
Bernie was accompanied by members of a group called Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery.
“Over 30,000 people have signed our petition that calls for an immediate halt to the current process,” said Kathleen Connolly with Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery. “There has been a complete lack of transparency and meaningful consultation. People are worried because the NDP government has failed to conduct a socio-economic impact study that outlines the science behind the current draft agreements.”
Attendees at Tuesday’s meeting in Prince George were told by government officials that a socio-economic plan will be done.
“I run a 57-year-old, third-generation business that relies on outdoor enthusiasts to generate employment in my community,” said Tim Schram of Corlane Sporting Goods in Dawson Creek. “Government needs to back off and take the time necessary to develop a proper plan that saves caribou and people can live with at the same time.”
Another public session set for tonight in Mackenzie and Thursday night in they will be Quesnel. From there the public input sessions will move to the Kootenays. Feedback from the sessions will form part of the proposal which will be presented to Victoria before any decision is made.