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Species at Risk tackled during NCLGA session

Species at risk, specifically caribou, were the focus of a plenary session held Wednesday afternoon during the 2019 NCLGA convention in Williams Lake.
Councillor Lisa Wardley, Chair, NorthWest Species at Risk Committee, Mackenzie County Ward 10, Alberta (left), Darcy Peel, director, Provincial Caribou Recovery Program, MOE, Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen, Dr. Chris Johnson, UNBC, and Tania Solonas, were panelists during a plenary session focused on species at risk on Wednesday, May 8, during the NCLGA Convention in Williams Lake. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Species at risk, specifically caribou, were the focus of a plenary session held Wednesday afternoon during the 2019 NCLGA convention in Williams Lake.

Dr. Chris Johnson, from the natural resource and environmental science program at the University of Northern British Columbia and Darcy Peel, director with the Provincial Caribou Recovery Program, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy discussed caribou recovery and species at risk.

Johnson is a member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

“A listed species cannot be hunted or killed,” Johnson said. “But there’s a big but here. The Species at Risk Act only applies to federal lands and in B.C. that is only about one per cent of the land base.”

That’s mostly National Parks, National Defence lands, Indigenous Reserve lands and migratory bird sanctuaries, although the province is obligated to recover listed species under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, he added.

Describing the process as ‘clunky,’ he outlined how the time line is long and it can take about five years and longer for a species to go from being nominated to actually being listed.

Johnson has been working on the Plains Bison since 2010, and in 2019 there is still not a decision on whether it will be listed as a species at risk.

“Actually 71.9 per cent are denied,” he added.

Peel, was also in Williams Lake on April 9, for a public meeting on the province’s caribou recovery plan.

Read more: B.C. and feds engage public on caribou recovery plan

“A big part of where we go from where we are currently in engaging on the Section 11 Agreement and the partnership, is to advance herd planning and that more specific operational caribou recovery discussion,” Peel said.

“Those things are going to take place in communities with the people who are most interested and potentially affected by caribou recovery decisions.”

Johnson said he has been involved with caribou recovery since 2003.

“This isn’t something that has happened overnight, but it is certainly something that needs to move more rapidly if we want to keep caribou on our landscapes and if we want to avoid real conflict with communities, jobs and caribou.”

During the public consultation meetings across the province over a six-week period, Peel said many people asked why the decisions were being made so quickly.

Originally the deadline for posting public comments on the Engage B.C. site was May 3, but eventually the Premier John Horgan extended to May 31. He also appointed city councillor and former MLA Liberal Blair Lekstrom as a liaison for communities to provide commentary on caribou recovery in the North East.

“There has also been a lot of concern about why no socio-economic assessment accompanies the recovery documents and people wanting more details — we have been trying to provide those things,” Peel said.

There has been some success with stopping the decline of caribou in a few places and a substantial part of that success has been due to wolf removal from the landscape, which has prompted comments that the government should just remove predators, he added.

Johnson said there has been a lot of concern during the public consultation about access to the back country and potential restrictions.

“I’ll say it now, and I will probably say it again, these agreements have no incremental back country restrictions built into them.”

In the draft partnership agreement there is a process that is identified to look at back country access and to have discussions with snowmobilers to see where they are interested in going, where the issues are with caribou, and working toward solutions that work toward caribou recovery in those areas.

Peel said it is necessary to ensure that caribou recovery in B.C. is a B.C. solution.

There are two annexes in the Section 11 — one provides a description of the status of the caribou herds across the Southern Mountain Caribou area and the other one describes the actions B.C. is already undertaking or planning to undertake over the next two years such as predator management, maternal penning, habitat restoration and herd planning.

Tania Solonas, land management officer with the McLeod Lake Indian Band, shared information about the Kennedy Siding Caribou Feeding Program, a partnership with Tithonus Wildlife Research and her community.

The program started in 2014 in response to caribou population declines from an estimated 99 to 119 in 2002, down to 26 in 2013.

Feeders were installed as well as webcams. Two elders from the community go out and put food in the feeders every two days, unless there is a cold snap and they go out once a day.

In 2016, there were 50 caribou - 26 cows, five calves and 19 bulls. They were 22 per cent undernourished, Solonas said. In 2019 the number increased to the 70s, although a final report has not been completed, she added.

“Their weight seems to be increasing as the program goes on,” Solonas said. “It’s been quite positive - the program.”

The McLeod Lake Indian Band has long sought after the protection of the Kennedy Siding Caribou.

“Numbers have been dwindling for as long as I can remember,” she said. “Our Nations’ members decided a long time ago not to hunt caribou for a food source.”

Solonas also said wolf removal has helped with the caribou recovery.

Read more: Cariboo First Nations group calls for moratorium on caribou hunt

Councillor Lisa Wardley, chair of the Northwest Species at Risk Committee, Mackenzie County Ward 10, Alberta outlined the history of the committee and how there is “life after caribou recovery.”

The committee was formed in 2016 after an action plan was announced by the Alberta government to protect 1.8 million hectares for boreal caribou recovery. Her community and five others felt their concerns were not being heard so they banded together.

Fast forward to 2019 and the committee is working with the federal and provincial governments and a mandatory member of the recovery plan.

“It is critical that local governments are part of decision making,” Wardley said.

Approximately 270 delegates attended the convention from across the Interior and Northern B.C.

On Friday, Minister of Forests, Doug Donaldson addressed the delegates during lunch.

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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