Sensing growing concern in northeastern B.C., Premier John Horgan has named former B.C. Liberal minister Blair Lekstrom as community liaison tasked with engaging residents in the draft partnership agreements on caribou recovery.
The B.C. government has been widely criticized for a lack of engagement on the issue. Thousands of residents in the region have attended town hall meetings to discuss the province’s plan.
“My biggest concern is that a region that has by and large worked cooperatively on a whole host of issues over many, many generations is coming to confrontation over the caribou question,” Horgan said.
“I believe everyone in the region wants to take steps to protect caribou. I believe everyone in the region wants to protect jobs as well.”
The public consultation was scheduled to end on April 30 but has been extended to May 31, in order to give Lekstrom time to work with community leaders.
Members of the community have been concerned the provinces plan to address the dwindling caribou population will lead to job losses in the forestry sector.
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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.
“I regret we didn’t get more information before the public. But we are where we are,” Horgan said.
“People want to see the continued strength of our resource communities. As we meet a federal obligation to recover caribou, our government has been working to support workers and industry.”
Horgan met with Peace River Regional District board members, Chief Roland Willson from the West Moberly First Nations and Chief Ken Cameron from the Saulteau First Nations on Monday.
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The southern mountain caribou were listed as a threatened wildlife species federally in 2003. In May 2018 the federal government announced that the southern mountain caribou were facing “imminent threats to their recovery.
Lekstrom says he has heard the concerns of the public and is looking forward to meeting with public about their concerns.
“We can’t change what happened yesterday or the day before or five minutes. But today I want to say thank you because this is what our region asked for — we asked to be engaged,” Lekstrom said.
“I am not naive enough to think this will not be without it’s challenges and I will do my best to hear from the region.”