The B.C. government is seeking public input on a draft section 11 agreement between the provincial and federal government which intends to set a framework for co-operation to recover endangered southern mountain caribou.
The province is set to hold a public information session in Vanderhoof on April 25 at the Nechako Valley Secondary School from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.
Similar public engagement meetings have already been held in the Peace and Caribou regions, where the public feedback has indicated a real concern among rural residents of job loss and access restrictions as the two governments move to recover the caribou, a federally-listed species at risk.
“Canfor is very concerned and we believe the draft caribou protection agreements will significantly impact our industry, our employees and the communities where we live and work,” said Michelle Ward, director of corporate communications for Canfor in an interview with Vanderhoof Omineca Express.
“We are disappointed by the lack of meaningful consultation with industry and communities. We hope there will be more consultation on these agreements.”
These draft agreements were reached in March. One agreement, announced on March 21 was between the provincial and federal governments and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, and focuses on caribou herds in the northeast near Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, and Mackenzie as well as herds west of Vanderhoof including Telkwa, Itcha-Igachuz, Charlotte Alplands, Rainbows and Tweedsmuir which are all northern mountain caribou populations and in decline.
The other is between the federal and B.C. governments and covers the Southern Mountain caribou herd that stretches south to the Washington border.
Representatives from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, have been conducting public information sessions since April 1.
Consultations have been held in Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Prince George, Williams Lake, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Quesnel and Mackenzie.
Mayor Gerry Thiessen of Vanderhoof said he believes the effect of this agreement will be significant.
“What we are saying is that why have the caribou numbers turned down and why people say it is industry. It can’t be the only answer,” he said adding the herd in Tweedsmuir park has diminished without the presence of industry, logging or mining.
He said other provinces have had a longer engagement process and that three weeks is not enough time for public consultations.
“This can be very concerning for our forestry industry, mining but also areas like recreation and tourism because of the restrictiveness of what the concerns are,” he said.
At the Williams Lake consultations on April 8, Darcy Peel, director of Caribou Recovery for the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said almost all the caribou herds in the province are in decline.
“Caribou are in tough shape. It’s been a precipitous and dramatic decline…there are no easy answers with caribou recoveries… we need community buy-in and we have to start having these tough conversations.”
Sensitive to habitat change and predation, caribou numbers in B.C. have dwindled from 40,000 across the province in the 1980s to about 15,500 currently, with several sub-herds already extirpated in the North and Kootenay regions.
Thiessen said Vanderhoof will be the least affected in comparison to the other surrounding communities, however, his concern is that sawmills will have to harvest further away.
“So eventually you will run into areas that are affected by this. But number two is that this is a bellwether species so it won’t be the only species on the list that is addressed in this manner. So once you address it this way on caribou, you are going to look at other species and address it the same way,” he said.
He said industry is very concerned.
“And you heard it on the radio up in Chetwynd, where they could lose an entire sawmill in their community — they said 500 jobs. When you lose those many jobs then the spin off jobs in the community are also affected and you could devastate a community very quickly,” Thiessen added.
He said the new gold project in Blackwater could be affected.
Val Erickson, community relations advisor for New Gold said that the company is aware of the community engagement that the province is undertaking in regard to caribou recovery in B.C.
“New Gold has been working with Indigenous groups, local communities and provincial and federal experts through the Blackwater Project’s environmental assessment to develop robust and scientifically-defensible plans to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife, including caribou. As part of the environmental assessment, the federal government has proposed a legally-binding condition that would require New Gold to mitigate potential effects to caribou,” Erickson said.
Lastly, Bruce Mclain, woods manager for the Sinclair Group that runs Nechako Lumber Co Ltd, acknowledged the caribou recovery plans may affect them, but it’s still uncertain.
”The province has not come up with anything definitive yet.”
He said the Sinclair Group wants to participate in the recovery.
“We believe that the caribou recovery can be maintained and herds can be maintained and with little or no impact to the sawmills in the area, as far as wood supply. But it has to be a co-management project, involving experts and First Nations and company foresters. So we believe it is manageable. We are not pleased with the process that people in the Peace River have been subjected to, and I think that is the biggest issue coming up – with no set asides or process of exploring all options,” he added.
With files from Angie Mindus and Blair McBride of Black Press Media.