The Lekstrom report on caribou recovery public “engagement” has been filed with Premier Horgan and Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson. For caribou, the news is not good. Blair Lekstrom, a long time northeast B.C. Liberal politician, is eminently unqualified to pass judgment on the urgency of enacting an aggressive long term caribou recovery plan; he lived up to expectations and punted a permanent plan down the road two years. The (more) sad aspect of this? Premier Horgan fell for it!
What Lekstrom does know is local people politics. But he still doesn’t grasp the significance of giving all citizens the legal right to be heard in a legally constituted process, whereby citizens take some ownership of that process and subsequently become more accepting of the decision. It is here the NDP and Ministry of Forests Land and Natural Resources seriously, and consistently, misfire.
Horgan aggravated this “talk and stall” fiasco with his choice of a “local” – Lekstrom - to sort out what he and regional officials tried desperately to isolate as a “local” engagement problem.
Locals inevitably systematically and deliberately exclude the vast majority of British Columbians from decision making. They characteristically, as Lekstrom did, pander to local industrial, corporate and special interests like snow-machine promoters, collectively known in civil service lexicon as “stakeholders”; the very ones that fueled the over-logging crisis that drove caribou population declines (and several extinctions), and then piled into caribou high elevation winter range with their essentially unregulated motorized “playthings”.
Perpetuating the nonsense that “locals know best “is not new, but it only continues the unproductive and destructive tug of war between local self interests – loggers, millworkers, snowmobilers, and local Indian Bands - and the broad interests of the majority of British Columbians. Getting torn to pieces in the middle of this century long impasse are mature forests and caribou.
Near everybody agrees that caribou should not be (deliberately) driven to extinction, but the tune changes when recovery means local mills will close or lose shifts, some jobs will disappear, and extreme free wheeling recreation will be scaled or shut down. Scientifically, technically, or socially reconciling caribou recovery with unregulated logging of their habitat and motorized playthings harassing and displacing them in winter, is a fairy tale no matter what Lekstrom, or locals, including Indian Bands, say.
He wants government to compensate snowmobilers for loss of riding areas, the timber industry for corporate upset and locals who lose a job! He fails to discuss how 50 years of private sector timber company profits, gained from stripping caribou habitat, should be factored in. He conveniently overlooks the 45,000 jobs lost through timber industry overcutting and subsequent forced shutdowns. He expects taxpayers to pay again! And that doesn’t even broach the enormity of loss – to the entire world - from extinct caribou populations.
Lekstom partially redeems himself by exposing the insider federal and provincial dealing with Native Indian Bands that partly created this fiasco. The blatant ideological fervor to cater to indigenous notions of reconciliation short circuited pubic opinion, comment and participation; it rears its ugly head as divisive and exclusionary, even picking some Indian Bands over others. It also happens to be anti science and undermines the urgent need to have qualified public professional management of the entire recovery agenda, although Lekstrom avoids that call.
The reality is caribou recovery is far too serious for “lets all hold hands and dance around the May-pole” make-work, spread the cash around, reconciliation politics.
Legitimate, honest caribou protection needs an emergency order mandating caribou recovery, a full-accounting environmental impact assessment that lays out environmental costs, a quick round of legally constituted public hearings, appointment of a provincial-federal professional recovery team, and designation of a team leader with legal and/or scientific credentials to ride herd on this.
Dr. Horejsi is a wildlife and forest ecologist. He writes about environmental affairs, public resource management and governance.