Nichols: caribou misfire – but where was the aim?

April 1, 2019, the date of the Caribou Recovery public hearing in Chetwynd, the first of the series of Government fiascos revealing the secret work undertaken over the past year in so-called Caribou Recovery, is fast receding into the murky mists of time and missed opportunity.

In the daily crush of new appointments, work, runny noses, and now school-starting time, it is easy to let the recovery program that so stirred us five months ago become one of those bad dreams that we want to forget. If only it was a nightmarish dream!

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But it’s not, and a recent column, Caribou Misfire, in the Mirror by a wildlife and forest ecologist has stirred again my juices that I would like to remain calm.

I have written several times in past months about the issue that has not gone away though it seems to be quiet for the moment. Don’t let quietness fool you into complacency.

We need to be clear on one major fact: caribou, as a species are not endangered. Thousands of them thrive across Canada and the circumpolar north. They are here for the long haul – which is not to say that we can ignore their welfare. We need to take doable measures to give them living space. It is the caribou herds in the South Peace whose habitat has been, let’s be honest, largely taken over invaded by us humans that are at risk.

When we mix caribou recovery with treaty issues we get a soup that is neither nourishing nor palatable. The facts of present experience include the presence of a population of farmers, ranchers, loggers, sawmill workers, city dwellers, First Nations, and a host of support industries and infrastructure installations that have overspread the land at the invitation and encouragement of the various governments of the last 100 years.

We’re here, deeply rooted, and in equilibrium with most species that inhabit our forests, grasslands, valleys, and mountains. Caribou may be an exception. If the local herds can be salvaged to live in equilibrium with us we would be happy to fully participate in the endeavour. But we will not be happy to have our life supports and ways of life cut out from under us in the process. 

Dr. Horejsi, the ecologist-author of Caribou Misfire, quite clearly and unmistakably dismisses the serious social disruption through massive loss of homes and careers that will result if caribou are given priority over the human species. His assumptions include the idea that the “vast majority of British Columbians” (how does he know?) have been excluded by the “locals” from the decision-making process. He further asserts that we “locals ...  pander to local industrial, corporate and special interests” that “fueled the over-logging crisis that drove caribou population declines.”

Strong language, and untrue!

Maybe Dr. Horejsi should take the time to speak with some of us locals. He seems to understand that caribou recovery in the South Peace cannot be achieved without mill closures and the disappearance of “some jobs.” Does he realize that it could also mean the devastation of an entire, beautiful community – our home town? Does he care? It seems not.

Dr. Horesji should come to terms with his own reality. The university where he received his doctorate (Calgary), is highly subsidized by the work of locals just like the locals in the industries and on the farms of the South Peace – the very territory he advocates turning back to the caribou. 

Dr. Horesji has now retired to Penticton, green, manicured, paved (with hydrocarbons from northeastern caribou habitat, no doubt), and inhabited by many retirees from the oil fields, farms, and forests of the northeast, where he can enjoy for a time the fruits of a career that also was subsidized by the locals across this great western expanse of Canada, now at risk. 

But if we can’t find a way for us humans to coexist with South Peace caribou, do we have a solution for the caribou? At the risk of repeating myself again, I will repeat my solution: There exists in northern British Columbia a vast area of landscape virtually unentered by industry or permanent human habitation. It’s called the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area (MK), well known to locals. Adjacent to the MK is another vast, almost unentered territory, the Spatsizi. Create in this wilderness a wildlife preserve where the caribou can procreate as long as time shall last – where their only foes are bears, wolves, and wolverines. (Incidentally, I was really impressed when a wolverine sauntered past my dining room window while I sat there admiring it’s obvious strength and durability – must have been a teenager.)

It could be a process but it is doable in time to preserve the caribou if we have the will to find the way.

And by the way, the Ancients have taught us that “he who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue.”

 

 

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