According to provincial figures, southern mountain herds have declined from 2,500 in the mid-1990s to 1,200 today. (File photo)

Caribou debate in Revelstoke makes international headlines

How much are we expected to sacrifice to save a dying species?

The caribou debate has crossed an ocean.

The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, recently posted an article exploring the thread between caribou and Revelstoke’s economy.

“At stake: three herds of caribou. Or, potentially, the entire town,” stated the article.

The three herds of concern are the Columbia North, Columbia South, and Frisby-Boulder-Queest.

To sum up, the article asks Revelstoke residents how much they are expected and willing to sacrifice to save an endangered species.

According to provincial figures, southern mountain herds have declined from 2,500 in the mid-1990s to 1,200 today.

READ MORE: Last caribou from lower 48 U.S. released back into the wild

After months of controversy, the B.C. government released two draft plans earlier this year to protect endangered caribou in the province. They have yet to release a final document for this area.

In April, over 800 people attended a meeting at the Community Centre in Revelstoke to provide feedback on the draft plans.

“In a loud and clear tone, we’re concerned,” Mayor Gary Sulz told government representatives at the meeting.

Last year, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna declared that southern mountain caribou are facing “imminent threats” and immediate intervention was required.

If McKenna is not satisfied with B.C.’s plans to protect caribou, then under the Species at Risk Act, the federal government could put in place an emergency order that could unilaterally close off caribou habitats and result in billions of dollars in economic loss, according to the B.C. government.

“We’re all environmentalists,” said Teena Rumak, in the Guardian article. She is the general manager of the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club.

Rumak said the club has worked hard to protect caribou and has implemented a voluntary closure on Frisby Ridge to protect a herd of 11 animals.

Restricting snowmobiling and other tactics have been effective for some caribou herds. The Columbia North herd, which is north of Revelstoke, was approximately 210 in 1994 and approximately 120 in 2011.

The B.C. government said the herd’s population is now stable.

It’s possible, snowmobiling could be further curtailed in Revelstoke to protect caribou. The Guardian article notes that the snowmobiling industry pumps millions of dollars each year into Revelstoke’s economy.

The Revelstoke Snowmobile Club wrote to the Review in an email that an economic assessment study initiated by the club will be released later this month on how much snowmobiling affects Revelstoke’s economy.

However, as the article states, Revelstoke is a timber town. For example, Downie Timber, one of the local mills, employs roughly 300 people.

The Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation is a logging company which is owned by the City of Revelstoke and supplies logs to Downie Timber. In an article written by the Review earlier this year, Mike Copperthwaite, general manager, said up to 90 per cent of their licence is technically in caribou habitat.

READ MORE: Caribou plans could have big consequences for Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation

Worst case scenario, most of their licence could close, making it difficult to operate. Last year, the company provided the City of Revelstoke with $600,000 in dividends. And $300,000 the year prior.

The immediate future for caribou remains hazy. However, B.C. was required to have a recovery plan in place by October 2017. So far, the province is almost two years behind schedule.

When it comes to caribou, much is unknown. For them and for us.



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