The B.C. government is taking steps to ease worries of groups concerned they would be cut out of the process of developing plans to preserve dwindling mountain caribou populations in the mountains of Eastern B.C.
Among those groups are the Sicamous Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD).
The CSRD board received correspondence from David Muter, the executive director of the province’s Species at Risk Recovery Program. Muter’s letter came in reply to a letter the CSRD board had sent to Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Expressing serious concerns with the provincial consultation process on caribou recovery plans that have the potential to result in backcountry closures, #CSRD Directors voted unanimously to request more extensive consultation. See more: https://t.co/I3nD2IWmV0#YourCSRD #caribou pic.twitter.com/n8XIgJXRYA
— CSRD (@ColShuRegDist) April 23, 2019
The letter from the provincial official accepted an invitation to attend a later board meeting, and tries to address concerns about a lack of consultation with local groups raised in the CSRD’s correspondence. The letter states the province intends to consult all groups as it develops plans to restore the dwindling caribou herds to sustainable population levels.
Concerns have been expressed by a variety of communities and user groups that large areas of mountain backcountry could be closed to the public under Section 11 of the federal Species at Risk Act.
Revelstoke mayor Gary Sulz said after closures in the north of the province were announced, the director of the province’s caribou recovery program called him to offer assurances closures would not be taking place in the same way in the southern end of the province.
“He has alluded that we, as stakeholders, will be able to sit at the table regarding the herd plans. I still want to have those conversations,” Sulz said.
He added he still has concerns about what exactly will happen in the future, but thinks things will remain status quo due to the federal election.
“To save the mountain caribou is important, but at the same time, backcountry closures are an issue. It’s a citizens’s rights issue and it’s a lot deeper than just mountain caribou,” said Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz.
Rysz added that he and Sulz have been offered a one-hour meeting with premier John Horgan to discuss the issue further.
Another group from the Shuswap was in Victoria discussing the issue of mountain caribou recovery on Tuesday, July 16. The Sicamous Chamber of Commerce was part of a delegation from the BC Chamber of Commerce and 10 chambers in the North Okanagan and Kootenays that met with Donaldson.
“I left the meeting hopeful and glad I was able to be there to represent Sicamous and our surrounding communities,” said Sheila Devost, executive director of the Sicamous chamber.
According to the Sicamous chamber, the meeting with Donaldson addressed the need for broader engagement with First Nations, local governments, industry and communities as the caribou recovery plans move forward. The chamber also expressed a desire for socio-economic impact assessments in areas which could be affected by measures intended to help recover the caribou.
A message from the chamber states they are optimistic their concerns were heard by the minister and action will be taken to address them in the weeks and months ahead.