Evan Saugstad: It takes a village to raise the herd


Don’t do as I do, just do as I say — where have I heard that before?

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As a former resident of Chetwynd, and one who worked more than a decade in their local forest industry, I can’t help feeling a sense of foreboding as I follow the saga over caribou protection measures in the area just west of town.

The more I read, and the more I follow this story, the more the words “do as I say, not as I do” keep coming to mind.

Both the federal and provincial governments have been touting new rules and big changes in their respective environmental assessment (EA) processes.

Headlines read: more consultation, more local involvement, more listening, more information, more studies, more First Nations input. And on and on and on it goes. 

Ok, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Premier, what about the reverse?

What happens when you two are looking to make changes that effect the environment and local economies? Do your new rules apply to what you do? Do you really want to understand what your decisions might mean locally?

Are local concerns and fears relevant, or is it only what you decide that matters? And when you roll out your new plan, are we all just supposed to fall in line and ensure it’s implemented?

Now, I do understand that you may be in the early stages of looking at what causes caribou population declines, what effects people and industries have on those, but this is where you should be engaging with not just First Nations, but local governments, affected industries, and other impacted stakeholders.

Both of your new EAs tout early engagement so we all can get a better understanding of not only what may be proposed, but what may be affected by your proposed project.

Yes, I call this a project. If you close large areas to general public access and return them to natural conditions, along with that comes the need to “unbuild” infrastructure and that should be subject to a full EA.

To you, it may seem that protecting a small part of B.C. (420,000 hectares out of a total B.C. land base of 94.4735 million hectares) is insignificant, and doesn’t meet the threshold of “significant,” but locally, it is.

And, if I read the local media stories as correct, is this just the start?

Do you do the same for the other caribou herds in Northeast B.C.? Does another 400,000 hectares get added for the each of the other herds?

Like most people, I do not want to see our caribou herds go extinct, but we, as the people of Northeast B.C., and those most affected by any decisions you make in setting aside huge areas of land as off-limits, are concerned — and, quite frankly, scared as to what it may mean to hundreds, if not thousands, of livelihoods.

You have stated you are currently negotiating some types of agreements with local First Nations, but this is not just a First Nations issue.

The caribou do not belong to the signatories of Treaty 8. They belong to all of us, and, in that, all of us need to have a say.

Yes, First Nations do have constitutionally protected rights the rest of us do not have, but they are not the only ones who should be at the table to decide on what measures will be taken and what a “protection” plan will look like.

The “final” plan should be one that we all can participate in creating, and when that is completed, is measured against the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations, not the other way around.

Or is there a more sinister plan at play?

Are there some backroom dealings to protect more lands from public access and industrial development as trade-offs for impacts that Site C and other industries are creating?

Is there a plan to trade more land rights in exchange for dropping Site C court challenges?

I sure hope not, as that is blatantly unfair to all of us, and not just non First Nations peoples.

Now, as a simple start, why don’t you state what you intend to accomplish?

Put some goals out to us public: how many caribou do you wish to see be re-established? How long should this take and what do you want deemed as essential caribou habitat? Once that’s accomplished, then move to measures required to achieve those goals, and what the effects and impacts to local people and their jobs will be.

Not all will agree with what you propose and wish to accomplish, but that is the Canadian process: Consult, engage, create, modify, consult and engage again.

That is what you want the rest of us to do, so, in my simple mind and flat earth view, try leading by example and show us how your new EA processes are supposed to work. Don’t make some secret backroom deal with a few people, which, by the way, have the potential to create severe divisions within our communities, then wheel your plan out as a take-it-or-leave-it because that is what those who were allowed to participate agreed to.

It isn’t right, and it isn’t fair. 

Evan Saugstad lives in Fort St. John. 

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