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Province moves ahead with caribou recovery plan

Caribou in the Klinse-za maternal pen near Chetwynd, B.C., in June 2015. Tristan Brand photo.
Caribou in the Klinse-za maternal pen near Chetwynd, B.C., in June 2015. Tristan Brand photo.

The province has inked a contentious deal to protect southern mountain caribou in northeastern B.C.

The agreement is between the province, Ottawa, and the Salteau and West Moberly First Nations. It mirrors a draft agreement release last year, which angered many in the Interior as the deal was struck without the input of local government.

“From the beginning, our government committed to protecting this iconic species,” said Doug Donaldson, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “There’s no question that we’ve had to overcome some challenges along the way, but I am proud of how the parties persevered to find solutions. This agreement is a significant step forward.”

In recent weeks, the West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nation offered amendments to the partnership agreement that provide more opportunities for local government involvement in caribou recovery work, said Donaldson.

That’s not good enough for the opposition Liberals, who slammed the deal.

“This is yet another slap in the face to rural British Columbia with John Horgan once again ignoring the concerns of local residents and stakeholders,” said Mike Bernier, MLA for Peace River South. “John Horgan and the NDP never had any intention to adopt the 14 recommendations presented to government last June. Moving ahead without any meaningful input from the general public shows John Horgan’s disregard for this entire region of B.C.”

The 14 recommendations came from former MLA Blair Lekstrom, who was picked by Premier John Horgan to act as his liaison on the issue. Lekstrom quit the job earlier this year.

The decision is also being panned by Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer, who has been very vocal on the issue.

“I am extremely disappointed in today’s announcement that the caribou partnership agreement has been signed without any real consultation with local leadership,” said Zimmer. “This was done without formally consulting our mayors and councils, our regional district directors, our local Members of Legislative Assembly, myself as the local Member of Parliament, our local industry and other local First Nations … This agreement has sent a shudder through northeastern B.C. From mining to forestry to oil and gas, snowmobiling and users of the backcountry: our livelihoods and access to our backcountry is now in question.”

The number of caribou in British Columbia has dropped over the last century from about 40,000 animals to about 15,000. Southern mountain caribou populations now total fewer than 3,100. The population of the central group of southern mountain caribou is about 230. The population is now growing at an average rate of 15 per cent per year.

The partnership agreement also reconfirms the 2,689-hectare Klin-se-za Provincial Park (pronounced “Klin-see’-za”) will be expanded by about 30,800 hectares. The Province previously committed to a park expansion (Area B2) in 2015, as part of the Saulteau First Nation-British Columbia New Relationship and Reconciliation Agreement. The enlarged park will cover over 34,300 hectares and incorporate two mountains known locally as The Twin Sisters. The Twin Sisters area is considered to be a sacred place by Indigenous peoples in the region and elsewhere, and supports caribou recovery.

“This is a powerful moment in history, and it’s a turning point for B.C. and Canada and First Nations,” said Chief Ken Cameron, Saulteau First Nation. “People working together to save a species from extinction – it’s real and we can do this – our new partnership agreement confirms it. I want to invite all people to join with us, support us and help make it happen for the future generations to come. Many years ago, our ancestors were given a prophecy from the Creator. The prophecy says that we will find sanctuary at the Twin Sisters mountains. Our people have always kept faith with the prophecy, we know it to be true. It is so fitting that by protecting the Twin Sisters area here today, we can now also give sanctuary to our endangered caribou in the future.”

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