Infant caribou is protected from wolves in a maternity pen near Revelstoke. Similar protective capture efforts have been done in northeast B.C. as well. (Black Press files)

B.C. communities want say in caribou recovery

Critics say federal plans may leave out other species, local needs

B.C. community leaders have joined the call by a national forest industry group to include them in federal efforts to protect dwindling caribou herds.

The federal Species at Risk Act has listed northern boreal and southern mountain caribou as “threatened,” and the B.C. government is continuing its program to restore habitat and reduce the impact of predators on vulnerable caribou calves.

In the Kootenay and Peace regions, those efforts have included capturing mothers with newborn calves in protective pens, and shooting or poisoning wolves that target caribou herds in winter and early spring.

Chetwynd Mayor Merlin Nichols got support at last week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention for the federal and provincial governments to include local governments in discussions, and include issues like back-country tourism and other industries in new rules.

“We have government-to-government discussions going on, and we are asked to pick up the crumbs of what is being discussed,” Nichols said.

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Don McPherson said his community deals with grizzly bears that thrive in reclaimed coal mine sites and venture into town, as well as mountain goats and other species that may not be considered in a federal focus on caribou.

“We know the value of our pristine environment and our wildlife,” McPherson said. “We also like paycheques and jobs. We want to be part of the solution.”

RELATED: Caribou ‘North America’s biggest conservation challenge’

The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) has released a new report detailing its efforts to research caribou habitat needs and take protective actions. It includes B.C. maternal penning projects and wolf control in B.C., and researching ways to improve lichen growth and protect against cross-species disease transmission in Alberta.

FPAC CEO Derek Nighbor said the report is to highlight progress and build on successful strategies that have been developed over many years. In an interview with Black Press, he said the industry is concerned that a federal focus on one species that may have unintended consequences.

“You have provincially mandated forestry rules out of B.C. that approve forest management plans based on dozens of values – fire suppression, watershed protection, dealing with every mammal, bird and fish that might be living in that harvesting area, where are the calving grounds, where are the eagles’ nests,” Nighbor said.

“We have a number of projects across the country that are starting to pay dividends, so we’d like to see some doubling down on those efforts and expanding those programs.”

The B.C. government’s caribou recovery program warns “the public and industry will not be supportive of all our decisions,” and describes collaboration work needed to bring interests on board.

It also describes the limits of what is possible in a province that has widespread disturbance of the landscape, which has been addressed with protected areas and restrictions on snowmobile and off-road traffic in caribou range.

“Recovering all of B.C.’s caribou herds may not be feasible, without unlimited funding and control over land use,” the recovery program website states. “We need to prioritize our decisions for all 54 herds.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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