The provincial government has backed out of a meeting with the Peace River Regional District this week, where it planned to outline caribou recovery activities planned west of Chetwynd.
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy officials were scheduled to appear at a special board meeting Friday, December 7, in Dawson Creek. But the province wanted the meeting closed to the public, a demand that regional district directors refused.
"They're not ready to make any statements in public in an open meeting," board chair Brad Sperling said Tuesday.
"That's something we've been asking from day one, to do this openly and transparently. If they did this all from day one, in public, I'm quite certain they'd have everyone's co-operation."
A separate meeting with the District of Tumbler Ridge has also been cancelled.
The regional district has been ratcheting up its pressure on the province to make public the details of two agreements it's developing to restore southern mountain caribou populations to sustainable levels in the region.
The regional district wants that work stopped until it's included in the planning process, and until studies are carried out on the socio-economic impacts caribou recovery will have on industry, tourism, and backcountry access.
The province wasn't immediately available for comment.
Last week, Sperling said the province wanted to meet behind closed doors as the agreements involve government to government negotiations, including the federal government and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.
"As local government, to ask us to go into a closed meeting and then come out closed lipped … people are going to look at us and say, 'Geez, well, we can't get an answer out of the province, now we're not getting an answer out of you,'" he said.
Southern mountain caribou have been listed as a threatened wildlife species under the federal Species At Risk Act since 2003.
The central group of caribou includes a dozen herds stretching from Williston Lake to Jasper, Alberta. Two herds, including the Burnt Pine herd near Chetwynd and the Banff herd near Jasper, have already been extirpated.
According to recent counts, there's an estimated 229 animals in five other herds in the Peace Region.
At a council meeting on Monday, Taylor Mayor Rob said any plans to help the caribou will have socio-economic impacts that must be studied and considered.
“Everybody wants to protect the caribou and help the caribou get back to populations that are sustainable. I haven’t talked to a single person that doesn’t care,” Fraser said.
But the regional district wants meaningful participation in the process, and not to be salespeople for the province, he said.
“We don’t want to inherit a problem that we feel the province has initiated and created,” Fraser said. “We won’t be a group that will help them sell an idea we never had an opportunity to participate in.”
Regional district directors didn’t believe the information expected to be shared by the province on Friday was significant enough to go behind closed doors, Fraser said. Going into a closed meeting “traps” directors from being able to talk about the meeting with the public, he said.
“The province is supposed to represent you and me, and every resident of the province,” Fraser said.
“We don’t know how well they’ve been doing that, because we haven’t been there, even to observe.”
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