Years of effort to protect B.C.’s dwindling caribou populations have been a losing battle in most parts of the province, and the federal government is forcing further restriction of woodland habitat.
Last year Ottawa declared an “imminent threat” to caribou under its Species at Risk Act, which triggers consideration of an emergency federal order to stop logging, road building, snowmobiling and other habitat disturbances. Some herds have already disappeared.
B.C. and the federal government have reached a draft agreement on further restrictions to a huge swath of the B.C. Interior, and public input meetings have drawn capacity crowds and protests that Ottawa is going through the motions before imposing its preferred solution.
Protests about the expanded restrictions reached the B.C. legislature Wednesday, as Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier presented a 30,000-name petition calling for a suspension of backcountry closure until “proper consultations” can take place.
B.C. protected 80 per cent of high-elevation habitat in 2012, with that increased to 100 per cent with low-elevation restrictions in 2014 on orders from Ottawa.
The forest industry has taken its own steps to reduce impact. In its submission to the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Council of Forest Industries argues that habitat protection alone has not worked anywhere in the country.
“Caribou recovery is predicated on much more than habitat preservation, as evidenced by declining caribou populations in Wells Grey Provincial Park and Jasper National Park,” a COFI submission states. “Furthermore, caribou herds have been completely extirpated from Banff National Park, which has been protected as a national park since 1885 and has never had any industrial activity.”
The B.C. government’s caribou recovery strategy recognizes that gas exploration in the northeast, logging across the Interior have changed the predator-prey dynamic by creating access for wolves. A warming climate that has contributed to increased forest fires and expanded moose, deer and elk further north, bringing predators with them.
That combination of factors has seen caribou numbers across B.C. decline from 40,000 in the 1980s to about 15,500 today, with some local groups already extirpated in the North and Kootenays.
The province’s strategy in recent years has included setting up maternal protection pens for caribou, and shooting and trapping wolves in an effort to protect vulnerable calves.
Consultation meetings on further restrictions began April 1 in Chetwynd and Fort St. John, where a West Fraser representative said he was told by the province to expect job losses of 500 people in the Chetwynd-Tumbler Ridge area where Canfor also operates logging and sawmilling.
Consultation sessions are scheduled to continue on the following schedule:
• Quesnel, April 11, 5:30 p.m. at Quesnel and District Seniors’ Centre
• Revelstoke, April 15, 5:30 p.m. at Revelstoke Community Centre
• Nelson, April 16, 5:30 p.m. at Prestige Lakeside Resort
• Nakusp, April 17, 5:30 p.m. at Nakusp and District Sports Complex
• McBride, April 23, 5:30 p.m. at Robson Valley Community Centre
• Vanderhoof, April 24, 5:30 p.m. at Nechako Valley Secondary School
• Clearwater, April 29, 5:30 p.m., Clearwater Secondary School
• Cranbrook, April 30, 5:30 p.m., Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort