Is our backcountry access being threatened?

Is your backcountry access being threatened?

The PRRD is making demands of the province and calling them misleading when it comes to developing a recovery strategy for southern mountain caribou in Northeast BC.

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They also want a seat at a table before any future discussions are had on the matter.

The Peace’s back country access is indeed being seriously threatened, says a group now with nearly 6,000 signatures and more than 1,000 members on Facebook in less than 36 hours.

“The way we’ve seen this – the government has not consulted with anybody,” says Dane Smith with Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery.

“Even our mayor (Dale Bumstead) says there is no seat at the table. If the provincial government won’t listen to our local politicians – perhaps 100,000 people of BC will be heard.”

Bumstead lamented on Facebook his concerns to members of his mayoral group.

“We are concerned about the socioeconomic impacts of a decision that could impact our communities.”

“We are all concerned about the health of the Caribou herds in our region. We simply asked to be involved and consulted as plans and decisions are made. This has not happened by the government as we hear plans are underway which could have impacts on the access to the areas affected by industry, tourism, back country enthusiasts.”

Smith distils the issue down to more finite terms.

“Nobody has seen a plan, and that is the real problem,” he says.

“What they are trying to do hurts this are, we love the back country. They are basically telling us no hiking in the woods.”

Since the group has started on social media, Smith says the response has been exhausting – but in a positive way.

“People are appalled this is happened. We haven’t seen a plan and this appears to be sliding in a backdoor without any consultation,” Smith says.

“We will not sit by – our next steps are to spread the word about this, and what the provincial government appears to be doing.”

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Environment Climate Change Canada are developing a pair of agreements with Treaty 8 First Nations outlining conservation and recovery measures of the central group of herds in the South Peace, which could have major implications for local industry and the economy, tourism, and backcountry access.

Peace River Regional District leaders agree there’s been far too much secrecy - and at the end of the day regional district has no clue what’s happening in the backyard it has a major hand in governing.

“We want to know what the plan is, that’s the whole problem. We’re not getting any kind of a straight answer from anyone; we’re getting bits and pieces here and there, and different communities are getting different stories,” said Brad Sperling, chair of the regional district board.

“If this is supposed to be about a federal species at risk and caribou, then why is this whole thing not front and centre in the public?”

Southern mountain caribou have been listed as a threatened wildlife species under the federal Species At Risk Act since 2003. The federal government wants to recover their populations to self-sustaining levels in the region so it can support traditional Indigenous harvests guaranteed by treaty rights.

The Central Group of southern mountain caribou includes 12 herds stretching from the Williston Lake in Northeast B.C. to Jasper, Alberta. Two herds, including the Burnt Pine herd near Chetwynd and the Banff herd near Jasper have already been extirpated. Three other herds in the Pine River and South Peace area are at less than 50 animals, according to the most recent population estimates.  The population of the Quintette herd around Tumbler Ridge was last estimated at 106, while the Narraway herd just south of Tumbler Ridge was last listed at 96. At least three other herds near Jasper and Banff are dangerously close to being extirpated.

The province is developing a conservation agreement with the federal government under the Species At Risk Act outlines the efforts at habitat restoration and maternity penning, and minimize land disturbances each will undertake over a five-year period.

It’s also negotiating a Caribou Recovery Partnership Agreement with the federal government and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, which will contain conservation and recovery measures specific to the recovery of the central group of caribou.

Maternal penning has already shown success in helping one local caribou herd recover. West Moberly and Saulteau have been running a project in the region for the Klinse-za (Moberly) herd, which used to be hundreds of animals strong but were at just 16 caribou in 2013. In 2016, the herd was brought up to 70 animals with the help of maternal penning.

Officials with West Moberly and Saulteau were not available for comment.

The specific areas to which the new partnership agreement will apply, and any limits on industrial development and recreation activities, are still being negotiated, the province said. Engagement with local governments, First Nations, industry and other stakeholders will happen before the agreements are signed, it said.

“All of these caribou recovery efforts are opportunities where existing and new partnerships with industry and community stakeholders can contribute to successful caribou recovery,” said a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

But it’s the lack of upfront inclusion in the discussions and the resulting lack of transparency that’s causing unrest in the area, Sperling says.

The agreements have been in development for more than a year, but the regional district only recently learned of them from industry and special interest groups.

The regional district has only been getting “snippets of information,” including that some 400,000 cubic metres of timber could be lost to local forestry companies, Sperling said. Such a move could have a devastating impact on the regional economy, particularly in Chetwynd where there are two mills, and see the loss of 200 to 500 jobs, he said.

“That’s massive, that’s devastating to a community like Chetwynd,” Sperling said.

The province wants to meet with regional district next week about the agreements, but want the meeting held in camera and closed to the public as the agreements involve government-to-government negotiations, Sperling said. But Sperling wants the meeting open to the public, and is discussing the matter with his board colleagues. “As local government, to ask us to go into a closed meeting and then come out closed lipped.”

In a statement, Environment and Climate Change Canada said it’s committed to recovering Canada’s species at risk with conservation measures based on “sound science, partnerships, and recovery planning.”

“The Government is determined to put caribou on a path to recovery and comply with its obligations under the Species at Risk Act,” a spokesperson said.

“The Government recognizes that meaningful change to support southern mountain caribou recovery requires changes to natural resource management practices across multiple sectors. It also recognizes the potential socio-economic implications of such changes and the need to find solutions that maximize the potential for caribou recovery, minimize effects on communities and address the concerns of Indigenous peoples.”

Locally, the Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery group has met with regional district, the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce, and others to help underline what they are doing.

Pouce Coupe mayor Lorraine Michetti said the answer was simple.

“Bring the regional district to the table, industry, and municipalities,” she said.

 

The Concerned Caribou group wants all negotiations to halt immediately and for the provincial government negotiation teams and all government agencies to:

1) Consult openly with all users, stakeholders, businesses, and local government

2) Immediately begin economic and socio economic impact studies on the northeast region

3) Provide base line data on populations and relevant science based studies to support closures and recovery plans.

 

- with files from the DCM/AHN

© Copyright Dawson Creek Mirror News

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