by Andrea Arnold

Mayor Gene Runtz addressed the 175 locals gathered to learn what the Caribou Recovery could mean, and what actions need to be taken. /ANDREA ARNOLD

The Village of McBride hosted an Information Sharing Session around Caribou Conservation Planning on March 13, 2019.

CAO Sheila McCutcheon opened the meeting by addressing the 175 attendees and outlining the evening’s agenda. Mayor Runtz then took the mic and explained his background in forestry, and illustrated the importance of community involvement and voice. He pleaded to the public to write emails to government.

Runtz said he would like to work with the province to develop a community plan that works with Section 11 under the federal Species At Risk Act, Conservation Agreement Process. He said it’s less impactful as it is ‘managing’ not ‘protecting’ critical habitat. It can also include socio-economic factors and allows communities time to adapt.

Craig Pryor, Manager of Valemount Community Forest said that there has been no real information forthcoming from the government.

Councillor Lucille Green presented a summary of MP Bob Zimmer’s town hall meeting hosted in Prince George. She said the concern is that recovery planning meetings are being held behind closed doors without input from affected communities. She said rumors are circulating because of the lack of transparency, and causing anxiety to increase across the province.

McBride Community Forest Corporation Board Chair, Joseph Rich and Councillor Green said their forest stewardship plan was updated in January 2017 to include mountain caribou.

“To work in a Mountain Caribou Habitat, site plans need to comply with recommendations made in a Mountain Caribou Field Evaluation that has been completed by a qualified registered professional,” said Green.

Several clubs and businesses who regularly use the backcountry were invited to say a few words about how closures could affect them, and what they are doing, or willing to do to be a part of a successful caribou recovery plan.

When the meeting was opened up to the public, the tone was respectful and calm.

CAO McCutcheon then reviewed the petition that the community is asked to sign.”  The petition is asking that the Provincial Government does the following:

1. Begin immediate and constructive dialogue with All Robson Valley Stakeholders including backcountry recreational groups, industry, businesses and local government, who will all be impacted.

2. Conduct economic and socio-economic impact studies on how and where closures will impact the Robson Valley and its citizens and related economy.

3. Provide baseline data on caribou populations and relevant science-based studies to support future wildlife management processes and recovery plans.

4. Considers solutions provided by Robson Valley Stakeholders who are local experts and have a long-standing history in the Robson Valley.

The petition will be available at the Village Office until the end of March.

Councillor Rosemary Hruby was pleased with the turnout. “I was so inspired by the tremendous turnout of concerned citizens for the Cariboo Closures Information meeting,” said Hruby. “This was yet another shining example of how the citizens of McBride and area not only care about their environment and economy, but are willing to commit to positively impacting them.”

Councillor Diane Smith said there was a great cross-section of people at the meeting.

“These people have the combined wisdom and knowledge of our Valley. It seemed like all who spoke had great respect for preserving the mountain Caribou and are already taking measures to do so,” she said.

Mayor Eugene Runtz was also pleased with the turnout.

“Now we need people involved with this and have community members follow through. I strongly encourage everyone to write both the Federal and Provincial Ministers with your concerns and ideas. This is essential to the community engagement that is so necessary at this time,” he said.