BY BILL PHILLIPS
The province is putting an interim moratorium on new resource development in parts of of the northeast as part of its caribou protection plan.
The moratorium is one of 14 recommendations in a report penned by former MLA and cabinet minister Blair Lekstrom, tagged by Premier John Horgan earlier this year to be his liaison in the northeast, following stiff opposition to the process earlier this year.
“By acting on this recommendation, it gives a genuine sense of purpose to the Species at Risk legislation that the federal government is using to direct our attention to the caribou issue,” Horgan said during a session with provincial media Thursday. “It also provides certainty to those who sat down and worked on the partnership agreement that we’re serious about it and it also says to industrial workers, users, and families that are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the mountain caribou.”
In 2003, the mountain caribou were listed as ‘threatened.’ In 2018, the federal government decided the caribou population was under imminent threat.
“A federally-imposed solution would have had severe economic consequences for local workers, families and businesses,” Horgan said.
The province then worked with the federal government and negotiated an agreement with the Salteau and West Moberly First Nations, which has drawn criticism from local governments in the area that the process was being conducted behind closed doors.
“We did not do enough local consultation,” Horgan said, which led to him bringing in Lekstrom and extending the public consultation sessions.
The moratorium areas are in the vicinity of MacKenzie, Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd, and are consistent with Zone A2 and B3 within the Draft Caribou Recovery Partnership Agreement.
The order precludes the issuance of permits associated with harvesting of trees and construction of roads. Road construction will be allowed only to facilitate harvesting of already issued cutting permits or timber sales licenses. The area associated with this order represents 734,410 hectares of land, including approximately 120,000 hectares of Timber Harvesting Land Base over three management units: Dawson Timber Supply area (TSA), Mackenzie TSA and Tree Farm Licence 48.
The moratorium will be on future resource development, namely logging which is facing problems of fibre supply across the province.
“The issues around certainty and uncertainty will, over the summer months as we continue that engagement process, will be lessened,” said Horgan. “There are significant challenges in the Interior forest sector, it’s not just about mountain caribou.”
He said the forests have been ravaged by the mountain pine beetle and two of the worst fire seasons ever.
“We have significant challenges in the forest sector, building over many decades,” he said. “The caribou challenge is just one component of those challenges. (Forest Minister Doug) Donaldson’s responsibility is to try and manage all of those and ensure that we have appropriate fibre mixes for the various companies and communities that are going to be affected by the downturn in the sector.”
He said the temporary moratorium will allow government to meet with forest companies to determine where other fibre may be found.
The announcement follows public engagement on caribou recovery and the Draft Section 11 Agreement and Draft Partnership Agreement, which began in March 2019. The government will continue to engage with communities and stakeholders and expects to sign the partnership agreement following that engagement. That process will include identifying opportunities to mitigate industrial impacts as a result of the moratoriums. Lekstrom will continue to act as a liaison between government and communities on caribou protection plans.
“One of the most important things I heard throughout my entire engagement, regardless of whether they with industry, backcountry user groups or interesting individuals, everyone supported the concept of caribou recovery,” said Lekstrom. “That’s vitally important. They also recognize that habitat conservation and restoration is important. The concern was how did we get to this point without our involvement?”
The moratorium does not stop recreational use of the area. Horgan said that most backcountry users are responsible users and will avoid caribou in the area.
Donaldson pointed out the province has developed a $50 million caribou recovery program.
“Under that program we have had some success with predator control measures, feeding programs, and maternity pens to protect young caribou,” he said. “But caribou populations are consistently challenged … that’s one of the reasons we need long-term solutions.”
He said the government has to focus on the caribou, but it has to focus on jobs and communities as well.
The opposition BC Liberals have been calling for a socio-economic impact assessment of the partnerships agreements.
“John Horgan could have avoided all of this had he simply engaged rural B.C. in a meaningful way,” said Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier. “Instead we heard nothing and they did nothing while the problem only got worse. We all share the concern for the caribou herd, but the NDP have dropped the ball and are making things even worse by sending a chill across the province as the potential for more moratoriums on resource development looms.”