How the Caribou Recovery Program could impact the Peace Region

Taylor MacIntyre
12/04/2018

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Peace Region governments are voicing their concern over the province's proposed Caribou Protection Plan. 
Both federal and provincial governments have said they want to draw up a plan to protect the declining Southern Mountain Caribou population, but local governments have yet to see details of the strategy.
The PRRD have stated that the area First Nations and the provincial government are "very close" to signing an agreement on the creation of a large space, dedicated to to protection of these caribou.
But now, many residents and community groups are beginning to share their concerns about how a Provincial Caribou Recovery Program, could impact the Peace Region.
There are many rumours surrounding the details of a recovery plan and many question marks remain. 
It is the federal government who manages our wildlife species, under the 'Species At Risk Act,' and therefore, they have the ultimate jurisdiction to make decisions. 
If a species is in a fast decline, the feds have the right - and must - take action.
One solution to protect a group of animals is to shield their habitat from any outside sources, and create some sort of a lockdown - or protection plan. 
This means that access would either be extremely limited or cut-off completely.
This could be the reality - a loss of access by industry and residents to approximately 420,000 acres or 650 square miles from Chetwynd to Mount Lemoray North and South. 
"That's the worry is the uncertainty," says Dawson Creek Mayor, Dale Bumstead. "The unknown about what will be the impacts if there is a closure to an area completely, what does that mean to industry, what does that mean to Louisiana Pacific, to West Fraser, Canfor, what does it mean to the agriculture producers who may have the cattle who may have grazing licenses in those areas? We have no idea because we don't know what the implications or the components of that recovery plan are. We need to make sure that the provincial and federal government understand that we're concerned about the socio and economic impacts. Our quality of life in our region - that's why people live here is the quality of life, to have access to the great outdoors, their backyard and if that's locked down, the snowmobilers, the Geopark, the tourists, the hikers, the mountain bikers, if it's locked down, that's a big impact and so, we're there to understand what's being planned and engage our community and our residents to be involved."
Mayor Bumstead says the gap exists because the municipal government was never included in the plans.
The agreement is between the provincial government and the First Nations' people, so legally, they may not be allowed to share the details of the recovery plan. 
Mayor Bumstead adds that he's frustrated with this, because the entire community will be affected - and therefore, all levels of government should be at the table. 
And the concern doesn't end with current residents.
How could this protection plan affect future economic growth in the region?
"The damage will be incredible to our region," adds Executive Director of the Dawson Creek & District Chamber of Commerce, Kathleen Connolly. "Not only do people live here, but they play here. So, it would be very hard number one to recruit people to come to our area to work here if we don't have outdoor - that's what we sell, we are the north, we love our ability to be able to go out and recreate. If we can't say that or sell thatto potential employees coming here, that will make the argument very difficult to get people to move here, number one. The fact that people will have to go away to find new jobs will affect our housing markets, it will affect our tax bases, it will affect our businesses' ability to actually operate. So the damages could be just so astounding, if we don't find balance in the conversation."
Lead by the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce, a group of residents, 'Concerned Citizens for Caribou,' have started a petition that has garnered approximately 10,000 signatures so far. 
The petition aims to slow down the provincial government and asks them to take a step back to conduct proper consultations with all users, stakeholders, businesses, and local governments.
"This isn't about us saying "get rid of the caribou" or "let's see them become extinct" from our area." Mayor Bumstead continues, "The Southern Mountain Caribou is a herd that's important to our region and that's not my message. My message is allow us to be part of the discussion so that we can all find a way to build a recovery plan to see those herds thrive and be viable for the long term in our region."
CJDC-TV reached out to the 'West Moberly First Nations' and the 'Treaty 8 Tribal Association,' but both organizations were unavailable for comment.
Representatives from the provincial government were scheduled to appear at a Special Meeting with the District of Tumbler Ridge earlier today, but cancelled its delegation - saying that an update is expected, but they don't know when.
On Friday, a Special Board Meeting of the PRRD was scheduled in Dawson Creek, but has also since been cancelled.

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