The B.C. government’s efforts to protect the province’s dwindling caribou population is taking pushback from people in the Interior, who say the plan will lead to job losses in the forestry sector.
The province announced in March that it had reached two draft agreements with the federal government and two First Nations that would establish additional protected areas for the endangered species and other measures meant to protect the animals from wolf attacks.
Residents say one of those measures would see a significant reduction in the annual allowable cut of timber in the Peace River region, in order to thwart wolf movements via logging roads.
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That, they said, would lead to major job losses in the forestry sector — an industry the province recently announced plans to bolster.
“By the government’s own estimates, we’re hearing job losses in the 500 range,” said Chetwynd city Coun. Clay Bassendowski, who delivered a petition of 35,000 signatures along with other civic leaders from the region.
“Near as I can figure, that’s probably pushing half of the jobs in my community that will be gone.”
Central caribou have declined from a population of about 800 animals in the early 2000s to about 220, the provincial government said.
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The decline has been attributed in part to the rise in predator attacks as caribou, who have been driven from their natural habitat, encroach on the territory of wolves.
The previous Liberal government largely relied on predator culls to address the issue. Those culls were met with outcry from environmentalists and international celebrities.
The draft agreements also support predator culls.
Liberal MLA for Peace River South Mike Bernier, who helped deliver the petition on behalf of his constituents, said the NDP is ignoring the province’s rural areas.
“This is the first nail in the coffin for rural B.C. under this government,” Bernier said. “If they shut down this area, they will continue looking at other areas of the province.”
At the time that the agreements were announced, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development Doug Donaldson admitted that some industries might be affected, but assured the governments would work to ensure the effects are limited.
Members of the provincial and federal governments have been making the rounds across the region this month to engage the public on the agreements, which have not yet been finalized. The public can also voice their opinions online until April 26.
But Kathleen Connolly, a member of Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery, said the plan feels forced and rushed.
“They’re shoving something down our throat that we don’t think is fundamentally correct,” she said, adding Victoria is out of touch with the region’s concerns.
“I don’t think it’s political. I think it’s ignorance.”
The issue made its way into Wednesday’s question period, with the Liberals echoing Bernier’s comments that the NDP isn’t listening to people in the Interior.
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But Donaldson and the premier said the federal government’s finding last May that the caribou were on the verge of extinction means the province needs to move quickly after years of inaction.
If the province didn’t strike the draft agreements, then “the federal government would unilaterally impose an order based on habitat only that would be catastrophic to workers, catastrophic to communities, and could result in billions of dollars in economic losses in B.C.,” Donaldson argued.
The province also argued that it’s working to protect the forestry industry in the Interior, pointing to last week’s commitment to use more wood engineered locally on major infrastructure projects.
Those plans also look to maintain jobs in the region and increase value-added production from the reduced wood supply.
—With files from Keith Baldrey