By Andru McCracken
On Saturday, February 23 Bob Zimmer, Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies, hosted a town hall to discuss closures to protect the Southern Mountains caribou herds and to provide an opportunity for concerned residents to have their say. It’s just the most recent town hall and it won’t be the last.
Zimmer said that he has been in discussions with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Sean Fraser, and is concerned that the federal and provincial government will close so much of the back country that all access is impossible. Zimmer said that between 35% and 65% of the backcountry could be closed to motorized use and industry as a part of the plan to protect the endangered mountain caribou.
“It’s a big deal,” said Zimmer. “It depends how you close the 65%.”
Zimmer acknowledged the rapid demise of the mountain caribou.
“The caribou populations are rapidly in decline; we would like to take measures to preserve as many as we can,” said Zimmer.
“There are many measures that the Province is taking that won’t have any impacts while decimating parts of our economy and way of life. People have been going into the backcountry snowmobiling, hunting and fishing for eons,” he said.
Zimmer said that a question from his town hall meetings is if the threat of caribou extinction is being used as a cover to implement the “Yellowstone to Yukon” Initiative.
“The question that we are asking is this part of a grander plan to close the corridor and they are using caribou to do it.”
The Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative’s mission is: Connecting and protecting habitat from Yellowstone to Yukon so people and nature can thrive. The “Y to Y” initiative is a proposed interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon, of special importance to many migratory species.
Zimmer questions whether closures will cause the caribou to rebound, alleging that predator control is not part of the plan. However, according to the province, predator control is a part of the plan and they acknowledge that it will be controversial and unpopular but speak to setting up a ‘multi-region predator plans’ based on recent research.
Dawn Makarowski, spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said that information about the Caribou Recovery Program can be found online at: engage.gov.bc.ca/caribou.
“As part of caribou recovery efforts, we are currently negotiating a draft conservation agreement with the federal government and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations to conserve the central group of Southern Mountain Caribou. We are also negotiating a bilateral agreement with the federal government to conserve all groups of Southern Mountain Caribou,” said Makarowski.
“The draft agreements will be presented to the stakeholders and the public for feedback prior to any final decisions being made.”
Locally Curtis Pawliuk the manager of VARDA (Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association) said that his organization works closely with the provincial government to minimize impact on the caribou.
“We also work closely with our local Conservation Officers and MOE (Ministry of the Environment) representatives in regards to our local sensitivities,” said Pawliuk. “VARDA puts a lot of effort out there to educate and inform our users of any area restriction and we have seen great cooperation and understanding from our users.”
President of the Fraser Headwaters Alliance Roy Howard said that fate of the caribou shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“People have to be willing to change a little bit or we are leaving our descendants a degraded earth,” said Howard.
“It’s not just caribou, that’s just a symbol. We are really truly in a worldwide extinction event. Many species are going extinct everyday. We just can’t be blind to these kind of issues and expect to have a good ending… we’re part of the system too.”