Residents were able to voice concerns and receive answers to questions they had regarding two draft caribou recovery agreements when government officials stopped in Clearwater for an engagement session.
The session covered the Draft Section 11 Agreement, between the federal and provincial governments, and the Draft Partnership Agreement, between the federal and provincial governments as well as the West Moberly and Saulteay First Nations, both of which were developed under the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA).
“We’ve heard through a number of the sessions, a strongly expressed idea that the province and Canada should be working very closely on species-at-risk recovery and wildlife conservation more generally, and I think what you’ll see over the course of the evening is that is indeed what’s happening with this project and this challenge in front of us,” said Blair Hammond, director with the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“It’s a very complex challenge and both governments have been working very closely on it for quite a number of months to get a process and plan in place that’ll get us to success.”
The draft Section 11 agreement between B.C. and Canada sets a framework for co-operation between the two governments to recover southern mountain caribou, and the other, 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.
Because the Draft Partnership Agreement is specific to the Peace River area of the province, more attention was given at the Clearwater session to the Section 11 Agreement, which covers the entire Southern Mountain Caribou range.
Lisa Paquin, director of intergovernmental relations with B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said the Section 11 Agreement, “… outlines how we’re going to work with First Nations, local governments, industry and communities to develop the caribou management plans, and in doing this (the agreement) includes proposed actions that align and support with renewed provincial recovery efforts.”
The main purpose of Section 11 is to enable collaboration between Canada and B.C. to advance caribou recovery and the agreement formalizes this process by bringing the federal government to the table.
It also enables more collaboration to happen, between both the governments and the communities affected, to advance the discussions.
One of the concerns raised by residents from Clearwater and area included previous initiatives put in place to protect the caribou, which some felt didn’t work in the first place.
Cameron Loring, who retired after 30 years in the forest industry, said he’s seen years of mediocre policies and what he called pointless implementation of knee-jerk reactionary land use policies, that haven’t helped caribou even though they were implemented under the guise of caribou management.
“At what point is the government, provincially and/or federally, going to go back and take a look at what’s been done and why it’s been so ineffective, or take a real honest look at how those policies failed and why,” Loring said.
“Because in my opinion, the majority of them were a waste of time and did nothing but pacify a self-serving bureaucracy and sniveling, whining minority of uneducated people that want something to bitch about down in the lower mainland.”
He then apologized for the potential cynicism of his comment, but added during his time in the industry, being forced into what he felt was poor ecological management under the guise of caribou management that he said was misguided, had been frustrating for himself and many of his colleagues.
“I’d also suggest and caution that every time we as a society attempt to manage an ecological or biological entity on social values, we screw it up,” said Loring.
Darcy Peel, director of the Caribou Recovery Program for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources, Operations, and Rural Development B.C., said government reviews the outcomes from past policies regularly.
“Through the various processes that have happened, we utilize the best available science and the restrictions that were placed upon us at that time in order to manage caribou and so in those places, most of that management was on the protection of high-value winter habitat and there’s no doubt that’s what we did,” Peel said.
“We captured the high-value winter habitat in those areas and protected it through ungulate winter ranges, wildlife habitat areas in parks, and all different kinds of land management tools.”
Peel added the missing piece, though, is that Caribou require moving on many different actions at the same time in order to stop the decline in places where the landscape has changed significantly.
He also said in the places where government has done that and demonstrated by taking action on predator density, primary prey management, habitat protection, and for some places, habitat restoration and recreation management—the trajectory has turned from a decline to an increase, and in some cases, increased up to 20 per cent per year.
“So the science is very clear on what needs to happen for caribou recovery, the challenge is, what society is willing to accept as an impact, and that’s why we’re here to discuss this,” said Peel.
“It’s not an easy solution you can just broad brush and spread across the country and say this is what we’re going to do for caribou because the impact on communities would be dramatic.”
Some within the snowmobiling community were concerned with a piece in the agreement involving the incremental increase of the protection of land.
Alberta Venor, president of the Blue River Powder Packers snowmobile club, raised this concern, citing a fear that the increase could eventually take over most of the land available for winter recreation.
“I’m from an area where motorized recreation, whether it be heli-skiing or snowmobiling, is the lifeblood of the winter and a lot of these issues are going to affect people here whether we like it or not,” said Venor.
“I have a mathematics background and I know any equation that has an increasing component is eventually going to take over of all of it, right?”
Peel addressed this question, saying it’s not expected that there’ll be vast protections of additional caribou habitat through the new process, but instead they’ll be looking at land already protected and how those protections have been working out, then making refinements as needed.
“I think you are also probably wondering about recreation closures, and we don’t anticipate additional recreation closures in the southern mountain caribou quarter because of the mountain caribou recovery implementation process that previously came along,” he said.
Peel added the next step of the discussion is to take the science learned from herd plans—which are in place for caribou herds across B.C. and describe their status, threat levels, and actions taken in the past to manage the specific herd—and bring that science to the communities across the province and try to work on plans collaboratively.
“The next step is to take that science and what it says about caribou recovery, and come to the communities and say, ‘Here’s what the science says, how do we manage that with the community?'” he said.
“What are the potential impacts and concerns with all the people who are potentially involved and impacted? And if necessary we’ll develop socio-economic assessments of that, that are then given to decision makers so they can move this forward and stop the decline of caribou in places where we can keep them on the landscape.”
Feedback will be accepted by the B.C. government on the two draft caribou recovery agreements for the Southern Mountain Caribou until May 31 at 4 p.m.
To submit feedback, or to learn more about the agreements, visit engage.gov.bc.ca/caribou/