The first meeting of a provincial leadership table on caribou recovery in the Peace region appears to have made little progress in harmonizing provincial objectives with regional concerns, with the point man for the Peace River Regional District calling it a "waste of time."
The leadership table met in Vancouver on Friday, Nov. 29, and is made up of area First Nations, local mayors, regional district and industry representatives, as well as provincial officials. Premier John Horgan assembled the group to address ways to recover low populations of southern mountain caribou in the South Peace while limiting impacts to the economy.
But there were no answers to be had at the meeting about reopening a draft partnership agreement with First Nations in order to give local governments more participation and input in recovery planning. Nor were there answers as to whether a study on the socio-economic impacts for recovery efforts and backcountry closures would be finished before the agreement is finalized.
"The whole exercise was very frustrating and consensus afterward was that it was a waste of time and probably we went backwards instead of forward," electoral director Dan Rose wrote in a report to that will come before the regional district board on Friday, Dec. 13.
"Our message was consistent. LET US IN."
Caribou numbers in the central group of the southern mountain caribou herds around Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge have dropped from between 800 to 1,000 in the 1990s, to around 230 today. While a few herds in the region have already been extirpated, biologists say the entire population likely would have been extirpated by 2020 without predator control and maternal penning starting five years ago.
The province imposed earlier this year what it calls temporary moratoriums on industrial activities in the Mackenzie-Chetwynd-Tumbler Ridge areas to protect the herds that remain.
The moratorium was one of 14 recommendations made by Blair Lekstrom, a former Liberal cabinet minister and current Dawson Creek councillor handpicked by Horgan to liaise with local governments and the public following a major backlash against the province's proposed plans.
Read Rose's report on the leadership table to the regional district board in full:
"I travelled to Vancouver to attend a meeting on November 29, 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to represent the PRRD board at a leadership table created by the province. I met with West Moberly Chief Roland Willson, Saulteau Chief Ken Cameron, area mayors Dale Bumstead, Allan Courtoreille, Keith Bertrand, Raye MacKeagan from Mackenzie and Lori Ackerman was on the phone. Blair Lekstrom was there as well as forestry, mining, oil and gas and a bunch of deputy ministers.
"I was there with other local govt. representatives to find out if there is any appetite on the part of the province to reopen, alter, add to or reconstruct the Draft Partnership Agreement on the recovery of central mountain caribou to allow local govt. and stakeholders a way forward to meaningful participation in Caribou recovery.
"We all asked that question several times and several different ways and could not get an answer from the province. We asked if local govt. could be included in some way that would allow us to contribute to the agreement. No answer, other than a discussion about much work that needed to be done and maybe we could fit in or participate on lower level committees. "When the govt. was asked if the work on socio-economic impacts and back country closures as well as land use objectives could be completed before the Draft was finalized, again we could not get a yes or a no.
"The whole exercise was very frustrating and consensus afterward was that it was a waste of time and probably we went backwards instead of forward. Our message was consistent. LET US IN.
"The province says they will release their socio-economic study soon and reach out to communities to fill in gaps and “drill down “a little deeper into the subject. We asked again before or after the Draft Agreement was signed. Once again no answer. I will ask the board for direction and comment at the next board meeting. Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions."
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.