Migrating Caribou are shown in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada on August 12, 2009. A former cabinet minister who resigned as Premier John Horgan’s liaison to help drive recovery plans for threatened caribou herds in northeastern British Columbia continues to push for more voices at the planning table to increase support for conservation efforts. Local governments need more say in future land use decisions that relate to caribou protection to win broader public support for the recovery strategy, Blair Lekstrom said in a recent interview. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rick Bowmer

Bring more voices to caribou recovery plan, says B.C. premier’s former liaison

He’s urging the province to involved local governments on a larger scale

A former cabinet minister who resigned as Premier John Horgan’s liaison for the recovery of threatened caribou herds in northeastern British Columbia says he wants more voices in the discussion to increase conservation support.

Local governments need greater input in future land use decisions that relate to caribou protection to win broader public support for the recovery strategy, Blair Lekstrom said in a recent interview.

Lekstrom, a former B.C. Liberal energy and mines minister, recently quit as Horgan’s liaison, saying the B.C. government was not prepared to change a draft agreement between the federal government and the area’s West Moberly and Salteau First Nations.

READ MORE: Horgan’s caribou liaison quits

“We’ve got governments, both federal and provincial, prepared to sign this partnership agreement when they don’t know the socio or economic impacts of what this means to the region or the communities,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. If we find out it costs the possibility of hundreds of people losing their jobs, I guess so be it.”

Lekstrom wants the B.C. government to endorse minor changes to the draft agreement to include local governments and said he is aware that Horgan has stated the province cannot make unilateral changes because it requires the consent of all parties.

“To sign an agreement that’s 30 years in duration without local government having a seat at the table is just beyond anything I could support,” said Lekstrom. “You have to wonder: is this somebody’s pet project in the federal and provincial governments that come hell or high water they don’t care about the region up here and they are going to sign it.”

B.C. government figures indicate the Dawson Creek and Chetwynd areas in the Peace River region have six caribou herds, but their numbers have declined from 800 to about 220 over two decades.

Lekstrom pointed to recent provincial caribou recovery team meetings in Williams Lake where the province is collaborating with local governments, First Nations, industry and other stakeholders on management programs for threatened Caribou herds in the Chilcotin region of central B.C.

In May 2018, the federal environment minister said southern mountain caribou faced an “imminent threat” to recovery in 10 local populations across B.C. The declaration set the stage for the federal government to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act to protect the caribou.

Such an order could include cutting off habitat areas to economic and public activities.

Moira Kelly, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s press secretary, said in a statement that signing the draft partnership agreement is a priority.

“We also recognize the concerns we have heard from local communities, so as part of this process, we, along with our partners, have established a number of working groups to ensure the concerns of local communities are heard,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘Critically low’ caribou population prompts wolf cull in the Chilcotin

The statement said B.C.’s southern mountain caribou are “an at-risk species that requires urgent action. If we don’t act now, we could lose the caribou forever.”

Charlotte Dawe, a Wilderness Committee caribou campaigner, said a recent study of 80 years of data concluded more than 80 per cent of B.C.’s southern mountain caribou populations have lost habitat critical to their survival. She said both the B.C. and federal governments are not doing enough to prevent the herds from facing extinction.

“It’s clear as day, if caribou are to have any chance at recovery, we need to stop destroying their critical habitat,” she said. “Every single population unit we looked at in that region has surpassed the threshold required for recovery and survival.”

Horgan appointed Lekstrom last year to bridge tensions between local groups, including back country enthusiasts and Indigenous groups, over the draft agreement’s proposals to save threatened herds.

A report by Lekstrom last April made 14 recommendations, including the call for more local involvement. An interim moratorium on signing the recovery program was introduced following Lekstrom’s report.

“I’ve done all I could in what I was engaged to do as a liaison to the premier,” he said. “It became clear they weren’t going to listen to anything I said.”

A statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said technical sessions are ongoing in the Peace region to implement protection measures for caribou, but there was no comment on changing the draft partnership.

“We know it’s important for local governments to be heard and be involved, that’s why we have been working hard to ensure they have a larger role in this work,” it said.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Caribou

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Trail RCMP report scam, break-in and lost child

Sgt. Mike Wicentowich released examples of calls to duty for the first week of July

New seniors care facility in Nelson to be built at Mount St. Francis site

Mount St. Francis hasn’t been in use since 2005

Christina Lake launches fire engine on pontoons

The new boat was made possible through strong community efforts

Single-vehicle crash on Rossland Hill due to stuck accelerator

No major injuries were reported from the crash last week

UPDATED: Interior Health to add 495 long-term seniors care beds

Nelson, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton to receive new facilities

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Tree planters get help with COVID-19 protective measures

Ottawa funds extra transportation, sanitizing for crews

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

New comet appears in pre-dawn sky above Cranbrook

Neowise can be seen without a telescope over the next couple of weeks

Most Read