The Columbia Shuswap Caribou & Communities Society hosted a presentation on caribou at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre last night.
The presentation was on how potential caribou closures could effect Revelstoke and promote interest in the community for locals to come together for caribou recovery. The main presenter was Dennis Hamilton, who has 30 years experience in caribou research.
“This is not about dividing, but pulling communities together,” said Hamilton.
|Caribou in the province has declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today. (File)|
At the moment, rural communities have no say in potential future caribou closures and recovery plans. Mountain caribou are listed as threatened and under the Species at Risk Act, the federal government is compelled to act. Various levels of government and industry are currently in negotiations on a Caribou Recovery Plan. As a result, it’s possible vast areas of the backcountry could be closed to recreationalists and industry to protect habitat.
“It’s not a question of if, but when the government will act,” said Hamilton.
According to the B.C. government, caribou in the province has declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today. The Columbia South herd, near Revelstoke, had approximately 120 in 1994 and was reduced to seven in 2011. The Columbia North herd, also near Revelstoke was approximately 210 in 1994 and approximately 120 in 2011. The herd is now listed as stable.
The divide between groups said Hamilton, such as environmentalists, industry, recreationists, governments and the public is “disheartening”.
“You all have the power to bring communities together.”
Many communities throughout B.C., including Revelstoke, want to be a part of caribou recovery negotiations, as the consequences of potential closures could have vast economic impacts.
“We need to help ourselves because you’re [the government] not helping us,” said Tom Zeleznik, mayor of Nakusp. The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society was recently created to provide Nukusp with a voice for caribou recovery planning. Zeleznik said the society is not advocating for any one sector, but for everyone to work together to create a solution that will have the smallest impact on the community and also help caribou.
Kathleen Connolly also spoke at the presentation via teleconference from northern B.C.. Connolly is the director of Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery. The group started a petition last year that has more than 25,000 signatures. The petition demands for all negotiations to halt immediately, consult publicly with all backcountry users, immediately begin economic and socioeconomic impact studies and provide baseline data on populations and relevant science-based studies to support closures and recovery plans.
Connolly said it’s important that governments include local communities as providing no information on negotiations is worse.
“It creates a huge vacuum and can lead to rumours.”
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Caribou are just one species out of hundreds that are threatened in the province.
“This is the start of a conversation that is much bigger than Caribou,” said Connolly.
The Caribou Recovery Program will set the framework for future conservation work in B.C.