The provincial government has hiked the fines for snowmobilers and off-road drivers caught in caribou habitat and designated recovery areas in Northeast B.C.
Effective immediately, anyone operating an off-road vehicle in sensitive habitats, including all BC Parks and southern mountain caribou habitats, will face a $575 fine, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development announced Tuesday.
That's up from previous fines of $230 or $345 depending on the violation, and did not reflect the effect of non-compliance to sensitive habitats and species in British Columbia, the ministry wrote in an information bulletin.
Violation tickets may be issued under the Wildlife Act or the Park Act by police, conservation officers, natural resource officers or park rangers.
Court convictions for snowmobiling in southern mountain caribou habitats also may result in a fine up to $200,000 and six months imprisonment, the province said.
According to the ministry, more than one million hectares across the mountain caribou range were recommended to be closed to motorized winter recreation to help caribou populations recover. The province said it's been closing areas to snowmobilers in caribou ranges since 2009.
A map of current snowmobile closures in mountain caribou recovery areas can be found below.
Southern mountain caribou have been listed as a threatened wildlife species under the federal Species At Risk Act since 2003.
The province says it is spending $27 million over three years to establish a caribou recovery program.
Part of that includes limiting backcountry recreation such as snowmobiling, "which has the potential to damage caribou habitat, increase access by predators and displace mountain caribou from their preferred early and late winter habitat," the ministry said.
The province is scheduled to meet with the Peace River Regional District and other Peace municipalities this week about its plan and recovery activities planned west of Chetwynd.
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 that caribou recovery will have on industry, tourism, and backcountry access in Northeast B.C.
The region is home the central group of southern mountain caribou, which 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 region around Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.