Premier John Horgan has extended the local consultation over sweeping new caribou habitat restrictions in the B.C. interior, in an effort to “dial down the acrimony” that has resulted from local residents being shut out of talks.
Horgan has appointed former Dawson Creek mayor and Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom to guide discussions, extending the deadline for a new habitat protection deal through May. Public meetings move to the Kootenay region this week, where some herds of caribou have already been lost.
Horgan acknowledged that the B.C. government didn’t allow enough public participation as it dealt with federal demands and a constitutional obligation to include local Indigenous groups. But he said the bottom line is that Ottawa has been demanding action since 2003 and will impose a solution if B.C. doesn’t increase its protection even more.
Horgan met with local B.C. Liberal MLA Mike Bernier and members of the Peace River Regional District Monday, and he said it’s unanimous they all “want to dial down the acrimony” that has been fuelled by misinformation on social media.
The dwindling herds of caribou have been in retreat across Western Canada for decades, with some subgroups already pushed to extinction. Researchers say resource development roads and snowmobiles have opened up back-country to predators, particularly wolves.
Horgan said the ongoing program to kill wolves in B.C. is controversial, but it has shown results in the Peace region, where B.C.’s largest caribou herds have traditionally been found.
The province has a draft protection plan with Ottawa, and separate plans with the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations to protect large areas of the Peace region.
Forest industry officials have spoken at public meetings about an estimated loss of up to 500 jobs in the Chetwynd-Tumbler Ridge region as logging is further restricted.
Lekstrom, now a Dawson Creek councillor, thanked Horgan for providing what the community asked for, additional time to have a say before the new restrictions are imposed.
Horgan wrote to forest company executives around the province to invite them to meet with local politicians and union representatives to maximize the timber that will still be available after new restrictions come down.
The industry is already dealing with steep decreases in Crown timber as the province adjusts licences in the wake of a widespread pine beetle epidemic that raised the cut for salvage logging.