Province, regional district set to meet on caribou recovery plan

Provincial officials will meet with the Peace River Regional District Dec. 7 to outline caribou recovery activities planned west of Chetwynd.

Jennifer McGuire, assistant deputy minister of environmental sustainability and strategic policy, is scheduled to appear with a delegation from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, at a special meeting of the board at the George Dawson Inn in Dawson Creek at 1 p.m.

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The regional district has been demanding consultation on a pair of agreements being developed with Treaty 8 First Nations aimed at protecting endangered herds in Northeast B.C.

The agreements could have major implications for local industry and the economy, tourism, and recreational backcountry access.

"Provincial staff are keen to come to your communities to share information and gather feedback/input on the proposed caribou recovery efforts," McGuire wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to the regional district.

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 Northeast B.C. region.

The population of the Quintette herd around Tumbler Ridge was last estimated at 74, while the South Narraway herd just south of Tumbler Ridge is at 26. 

The population of the Bearhole Redwillow herd in the Narraway region is unknown, dropping from 49 in 2008 to just 9 in 2017.

The province is developing a conservation agreement with the federal government under the Species At Risk Act, outlining the efforts at habitat restoration and maternity penning, and minimize land disturbances each will undertake over a five-year period.

It's also negotiating a partnership agreement with the federal government and West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, which will will contain conservation and recovery measures specific to the recovery of the central group of caribou.

The province says local governments and other stakeholders will be consulted before the agreements are finalized and signed. Areas to which the agreements will apply, and any restrictions on industry and recreation, are still being negotiated it says.

The agreements have been in development for more than a year, but the regional district only recently learned about them, according to board chair Brad Sperling. Local leaders have been only getting "snippets of information," he said, including that massive tracts of land could be closed to development and recreation, which could mean a big hit to the local economy.

The regional district isn't opposed to protecting caribou, but it has a role to play in those efforts and deserves a seat at the table in drafting the agreements, Sperling said.

"We're in a huge, huge country and area. If we do look at the science and the social and economic impacts, if we do have to move over a little bit to help these caribou, so be it," Sperling said.

"But have these talks and discussions open and honest. That's how you move forward and progress, and protect the caribou."

Maternal penning has already shown success in helping one local caribou herd recover.

West Moberly and Saulteau have been running a project in the region for the Klinse-za (Moberly and Scott) herd, which used to be hundreds of animals strong but were at just 16 caribou in 2013. The herd is now at 66.

May 2018 caribou census

Quintette: 74
Kennedy Siding: 63
Klinse za (Moberly/Scott): 66
Bearhole Redwillow: Unknown, very few (9 in 2017, 18 in 2016, and 49 in 2008)
South Narraway: 26

Total: 229

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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