Two draft agreements on B.C. Caribou protection ‘historic,’ says minister

Public meetings to start in April

Public meetings will begin in April on two new draft agreements that focus on protecting B.C.’s southern mountain Caribou.

The first agreement, between the B.C. and federal government and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, proposes an interim moratorium area and a caribou recovery review area in northeastern B.C. to help the dwindling Pine, Narraway and Quintette herds. No existing mining operations will be affected, but forestry and others would be.

The draft agreements are meant to minimize the risk of an emergency order that would unilaterally close off Caribou habitats and could result in billions of dollars in economic loss, according to the ministry.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson also announced a section 11 agreement under the Species at Risk Act for broad recovery in a larger portion of the province and access to federal funding. It does not include prescribed protected areas, but the development of herd plans through a collaborative process with Indigenous people and stakeholders could identify habitat in need of protection or restoration.

RELATED: VIDEO: Soon-to-be-extinct caribou moved to B.C. interior

Benefits include aligning B.C.’s Recovery Plan with federal goals, a collaborative approach to caribou recovery, could reduce the potential for a federal protection order that considers caribou habitat needs only and not communities and access to federal funding, according to the ministry.

Neither of the agreements sets snowmobile closures. Further consultation with snowmobilers will take place, according to the ministry.

The province is also commissioning an independent economic analysis with communities and local businesses.

“These draft agreements are historic in Canada and aim to protect an iconic species at risk that’s seen drastic population declines,” says Donaldson.

Chief Ken Cameron of the Saulteau First Nations calls it a powerful moment.

“It is a turning point for B.C., Canada and First Nations and people working together to save a species from extinction. This is real and we can do this.”

Wilderness Committee Conservation and Policy Campaigner Charlotte Dawe says West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations are the reason caribou in the central group have a future but was more critical of the Section 11 agreement.

“The bilateral agreements between the governments of B.C. and Canada miss the mark,” said Dawe. “I predict we’ll continue to see logging in critical habitat under this plan and caribou numbers will continue to dwindle ever closer to extinction.”

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Map of the proposed partnership agreement. Ministry of FLNRO files.

Section 11 agreement map.

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