Letter: A wrong decision on caribou recovery has potential to wreak havoc

An open letter to Premier John Horgan, Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson and members of the Legislature

Dear leaders of the great province of British Columbia,

I probably don’t have to remind all of you that northern and eastern British Columbia has been preoccupied, distressed, and anxiety ridden for many months with the lack of information, and consequent proliferation of misinformation, around the caribou recovery efforts of the Government of British Columbia. Some of you will still be uninformed or worse, misinformed.

A wrong decision on caribou recovery has the potential to wreak enormous havoc on our Peace River economy and especially on the lives of those who have made their homes here. A wrong decision has the further potential of wreaking serious havoc on British Columbia’s major revenue sources for hospitals, schools, rapid transit and on virtually everything that we hold dear as a society.

Following the first of the caribou recovery information-sharing sessions to discuss Section 11 and the Draft Partnership Agreement, held in Chetwynd on April 1, it is clear that the government is well on its way to making that serious and long-lasting mistake in its solution for caribou recovery.

That said, I assure you that it was a respectful assembly of 550 residents who candidly expressed their fears and frustrations – surprisingly respectful given the gravity of our circumstance and the feeling that the government has not been listening closely to our northern reflections, and may not clearly hear what was said tonight. Of course, a right decision could go far to reverse the distrust.

However, any solution that comes close to satisfying the conditions of the Draft Partnership Agreement will devastate communities and lives in northeastern British Columbia. You might think that workers can simply pack up the old kit bags and move on to another community. Not so. Let me explain the full impact: these major international companies will survive; they’ll simply lick their wounds and go elsewhere – like maybe to Alabama. A few senior management people will probably be accommodated.

But for the rest of us, it’s a different future: the 500-plus now-unemployed workers who cannot go to Alabama will not readily find work in any logging community in western Canada. They’ll default on their mortgages and houses will be boarded up; equipment will be repossessed; kids won’t get braces on their teeth; post-secondary educations will be put on hold; grandmas and grandpas will grow old without their children beside them; mom and pop businesses will close their doors one last time, and countless support industries will be out of business. A town will be in agony.

If Chetwynd is reduced by one sawmill, as we can anticipate from the text and maps of the Draft Agreement, it means 500 direct jobs gone. Every job lost represents a family thrown into crisis and despair. Mr. Premier, I can’t believe that is your dream for any part of British Columbia.

Yes, we want the caribou to thrive. The image of the caribou on our 25 cent piece daily reminds us of its proud past – and perhaps even prouder future. But are we going to sacrifice the lives of thousands of the human species across our great province in the process – and without any assurance that our sacrifices are going to be effective in the end?

We appreciate the pressures your government is under with Section 11, the Species at Risk Act (SARA), Reconciliation, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and now the Draft Agreement, and that your days are long, if not dull. But still we expect and require that our lives get to continue without assault on the part of our government. We believe our expectations are reasonable.

Mr. Premier, the human species everywhere shares territory with all other species. Our challenge is to learn to share the territory respectfully, acknowledging that human needs and rights are at least as important as those of the caribou and may, indeed, take precedence.

Lest our governments forget, I respectfully remind you that Vancouver, Victoria, Ottawa, and most other great cities in our great country were once pristine wild lands, homes to birds and beasts of countless varieties that no longer can live on our streets – perhaps with the exception of the coyote.

Our northern communities also, urban and rural, occupy lands that once upon a time were pristine wilderness. Then the people came and came and came. Some became farmers and cleared the forests for harvests of grain and cattle to feed the city dwellers, others by nature were loggers and harvested the woodlands for the boards and beams used to build the houses in cities like Victoria and Ottawa. Others became merchants, teachers, health-care workers, mechanics, drivers, and all the other countless services that make our communities home sweet home.

I assure you, we will not easily give up our homes built over generations by blood, sweat, and even tears. But that is what some people advocate for the sake of preserving a herd of caribou. But let’s not be hypocritical. You also live in houses made of wood from our forests, heated by gas from the northeast wells, lighted by the latent energy of water captured behind massive earth-filled dams, and use transit, either private or public, the steel frames of which are 50 per cent coal from open-pit mines here in the northeast. Oh yes, look and you will find 100 tons of met coal from an open-pit mine in every “eco-friendly” wind tower. Yes, even our mines are at risk. Think again, Mr. Premier, before you shut us down.

You need us. We need you. And all of us need the animals, birds, fish, insects, and flora that the Creator placed on this round globe for us to manage.

Oh, by the way, take a moment and calculate the truck loads of met coal that must be mined every year from our hills just to keep North America in fingernail clippers. And in every truck, a human driver with hopes and dreams.

We believe there is a solution.

Let me suggest a logical solution: Given, as your government biologist told us last night, and as we already knew, all caribou in the world, including the reindeer, are a single species so the species is not in danger of extinction; SARA is being improperly applied to local population units (LPU) of a globe-circling species. We acknowledge that LPUs in British Columbia are rapidly declining. If it is habitat they need, let us provide the habitat in perpetuity in the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area (MKMA), add a hundred miles or so of more habitat to the west of MKMA, and move the remnants of the dwindling LPUs there. If it is habitat that the caribou need, we have now identified enough habitat to sustain a healthy population of caribou as long as the rivers run and the sun shines.

Mr. Premier, we of the human species are not about to move.

Mr. Premier, please respect the needs of the human species in your final decision and please relieve our collective anxiety by deciding soon.

Merlin Nichols

Retired mayor of Chetwynd

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