by Andru McCracken

Mountain caribou populations continue to decline across their range as logging and resource extraction continue in the last remaining inland rainforest on planet Earth.

Many residents in McBride were upset they weren’t consulted during the creation of a draft agreement between the Province and the federal government concerning the recovery of B.C. caribou and they voiced their irritation at a stakeholder engagement meeting April 23 at the Community Hall.

During the 4-hour meeting aimed at engaging stakeholders, the panel representing the Caribou Recovery Program appeared to try and let those gathered know about the opportunity they have to provide input at the herd planning stage. Herd planning is where specific geographic areas are looked at, and changes to land designations are considered.

In his introduction, Mayor Eugene Runtz mentioned the praise he received for the kind, informed letters that the panel had received concerning caribou recovery and he tried to set a respectful tone for the evening. Despite that, the panel received a pommeling during the question period.

Speaker after speaker from all walks of life called into question the panel’s motives, intelligence and record on the caribou.

Matt Hillier’s time at the microphone came late in the evening about quarter to nine, but his comments were succinct and summed up a great deal of the sentiment expressed. Many people nodded in agreement as he spoke and tittered at the panel’s response.

“You guys seem to have made up your mind. You are going to spend $50 million to save a species that’s dying anyways,” said Hillier.

He said keeping caribou populations healthy won’t benefit locals.

“It doesn’t matter if that stupid animal is on a quarter. What’s the social and economical benefits of having that animal in our ecosystem to our communities? Zero. There’s no trapping, there’s nothing nobody makes money off of, if anything, the only people that are going to make money are the people that have invested money into your guy’s paychecks to get these closures to happen so that Canada has less resources available to sell.”

Hillier said the answer to keeping the caribou healthy is simple.

“You know you need a wolf cull. And you don’t need to do land closures because where there is no human impact the animals are still in decline. […] You guys are here trying to convince these people that we should have land closures for the benefit of a dwindling species who is too stupid to live. I don’t agree.”

Hillier said that if 10% of the forest was closed, hundreds of jobs might be lost, but he didn’t elaborate whether he meant in McBride or other communities.

“You guys might get a paycheck every two weeks going around and talking about this stuff, when really we are the people that are going to suffer.”

The moderator reminded Hillier not to make personal attacks on the panel, and Hillier appeared to apologize as he handed the microphone back.

Hillary Morgan, a Land and Resource Specialist at Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources & Rural Development responded.

“I think what I heard was a lot of anxiety and nervousness. You’re nervous about the future of your community, which is totally understandable and legitimate. I think for us, we just really want to reiterate that we aren’t here proposing a closure. We aren’t here proposing cuts, reductions in forestry operations. We’re going to start talking about what the next step is when we do the herd planning.”

“I hope that you can just trust that we’re up here being honest, saying this is what the agreement is and that the agreements don’t propose any closures.”

Morgan said she hoped to get into discussions about regional impacts when they begin herd planning.

While Morgan spoke, there were audible groans from the audience.

Member of Parliament Bob Zimmer was in the audience and took a considerable time at the microphone arguing minutiae of the agreement. One person asked Zimmer to take a break so others could ask questions.