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Letter: The fight to protect BC’s mountain caribou

To the Editor:

You may have heard in the news about a draft agreement on protecting BC’s endangered mountain caribou. Unfortunately, this recovery plan for herds in central BC has resulted in misinformed — and often racist — backlash.

Caribou across the province continue to be displaced from their critical habitat as our human footprint grows unabated. BC’s iconic mountain caribou are at risk of completely disappearing. Just this past winter in the Kootenays we suffered the loss of two caribou herds. If caribou are to survive in BC, well researched action plans — like those proposed in the Draft Partnership Agreement between BC, Canada, West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations — must be implemented.  

Consultations are underway on that plan, as well as the Draft Section 11 Agreement between BC and Canada that sets the stage for future actions for the recovery of southern mountain caribou. Opposition groups have rallied. But it is clear that most of the people actively fighting against caribou protection are misinformed on what is in the plans. 

The opposition rhetoric has claimed there will be massive job losses and that everyone will be shut out of the backcountry — neither claim is true. 

Existing mining operations and approved pipelines will not be closed. Effects on timber supply are minor and limited. The backcountry will not be closed.

As Chief Cameron of Saulteau First Nations notes, “The agreements place no restrictions on hiking. None on mountain biking. None on camping. Or hunting. Or fishing. And if there are going to be any restrictions on snowmobiling in critical caribou habitat, then there will be new snowmobile areas opened up.” 

Caribou are being scapegoated by some in the forest industry — but cut levels are being reduced not as an effort for caribou habitat protection, but rather going back to steady levels after large increases took place to address the mountain pine beetle salvage. 

Some updates to land use plans are necessary in locations across the province if we are to recover wildlife populations into the future. Habitat loss has been taking place very rapidly, and wildlife, not just caribou, are in steep decline. No habitat, no wildlife.

Land use planning that sustains both our communities and wildlife has been derailed for far too long by policies that favour large industry and uncontrolled recreational use. The plan put forward by the Saulteau and West Moberley First Nations is a first step to getting us back on track.

The future of caribou in BC is in your hands. The province needs your input on this pressing issue — visit wildsight.ca for more information.

For the Wild,
John Bergenske
Conservation Director, Wildsight