West Moberly Chief Roland Willson holds caribou antler as he speaks at signing ceremony for new protection agreement, Vancouver, Feb. 21, 2020. (B.C. government)

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

The B.C. and federal governments have unveiled their agreement to add two million acres to protected areas in northern B.C., after efforts to include communities and industry were shut out.

The agreement, announced by federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and three B.C. cabinet ministers in Vancouver Friday, centres around the Klinse-Za caribou herd northwest of Chetwynd. It comes after years of maternity penning and wolf kills conducted with the West Moberly and Saulteaux First Nations, and Ottawa’s warnings that it would impose its own protections using species at risk legislation unless there was an agreement.

As with B.C.’s other 50-plus caribou herds, the Klinse-za was reduced to 16 animals in 2013. With pens to protect newborns, habitat restoration and wolf removal, the Klinse-Za population has recovered to 80 animals. The province estimates that the central group of southern mountain caribou is currently about 230.

The caribou habitat preservation deal with for northern B.C. has been divisive since it was worked out in secret with the federal and provincial governments. It’s groundbreaking in its approach to work directly with Indigenous communities, in this case two signatories to the historic Treaty 8 in northeastern B.C. and Alberta.

B.C. Forests Minister Donaldson told Black Press in September that herds in the Cariboo and Kootenay regions don’t require any further expansion of protected areas to restrict logging and development.

Former B.C. cabinet minister and Dawson Creek mayor Blair Lekstrom resigned in late January as Premier John Horgan’s advisor on the northeast cariboo, after being called in to mediate with communities and industry who were left out of the talks.

In his resignation letter to Horgan, Lekstrom said his recommendations to amend the West Moberly-Saulteaux deal were not being implemented and local governments were still not allowed a say.

RELATED: Local governments won’t be sidelined, Donaldson says

B.C. VIEWS: Wolf kill, not backcountry bans, saving caribou

Lekstrom joined Chetwynd Mayor Allen Courtoreille in denouncing the deal after it was released Friday.

“To sign an agreement of this magnitude with little or no understanding of the socio-economic impacts that it will have on our region is disgraceful,” Lekstrom said in a statement issued by the District of Chetwynd.

In a statement Friday, Donaldson said the West Moberly and Saulteaux agreed to changes that “provide more opportunities for local government in caribou recovery work.”

The B.C. government is continuing its work through the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation’s caribou fund with a new round of projects to decommission resource roads, plant native trees and plants and distribute woody debris to restore wilderness and disrupt predator travel.

Applications closed Nov. 1 for the latest round of enhancement and restoration grants, from an annual budget of about $6 million. The latest round of projects is due to be announced in mid-March.

The foundation’s work was given an initial $2 million in the spring of 2018, as part of a lengthy effort by the province to respond to the decline of its 54 known herds. Its first set of 11 projects included a lichen restoration area in the Tweedsmuir region, restoring 10 km of forest roads to benefit the Chase caribou herd, and restoring an oil and gas exploration road west of Chetwynd that affects the Klinse-Za and Scott herds.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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