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FORT NELSON, B.C. — The Fort Nelson First Nation has released a plan of action to address an emergency that has caused the rapid decline of boreal caribou in BC.

The Medzih Action Plan delivers recovery actions for boreal caribou habitat within the Liard watershed in northeastern British Columbia. The First Nation says that the plan is the first, and so far only, recovery plan in BC to spatially identify and protect critical habitat for boreal caribou.

The Fort Nelson First Nation says that it came up with the plan to address the ongoing failures by both the provincial and the federal governments to take the steps necessary for boreal caribou recovery. In a release today, the First Nation said that over the last five years, industrial development has been approved in the area, and that the resulting habitat degradation has caused boreal caribou populations to drop precariously low. The Fort Nelson First Nation added that its members no longer exercise their constitutionally-protected Treaty right to hunt this species for subsistence purposes.

“Over 80% of boreal caribou habitat in BC is in Fort Nelson First Nation’s territory. Fort Nelson First Nation has a strong interest in helping to restore caribou populations,” said Katherine Capot-Blanc, Acting Lands Director of the Fort Nelson First Nation Lands Department. “Since 2011 we have repeatedly attempted to engage with government about our concerns with the boreal caribou population but have not received any substantive response. Our approach is to be proactive and work with government—but government has not been receptive. That’s why we have taken this step.”

The Fort Nelson First Nation said that the Medzih Action Plan has three goals:

  • Recover boreal caribou populations in the Liard watershed to self-sustaining levels;
  • Allow FNFN to exercise its Treaty right to subsistence hunting of caribou;
  • Allow compatible industrial development in areas that are less critical to boreal caribou.

“FNFN fully supports natural resource development but not at the cost to one of our traditionally harvested species, boreal caribou,” said Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Harrison Dickie. “It’s been left up to us to develop a proactive plan to help restore the caribou population before it’s too late, and before any more of our valuable harvesting species are put at risk.”

“The difference between FNFN’s plan and other plans is that we have identified and mapped protection and restoration areas for caribou. The province has consistently avoided mapping a spatial commitment to protection for boreal caribou, and the result has been a long, downward trend for habitat and for caribou alike. Implementation of this plan has the potential to reverse this trend and will meet federal requirements outlined in SARA,” says Dr. Rachel Holt, lead technical author of the plan.

In addition to habitat protection and restoration, the Medzih Action Plan also proposes a number of other strategies, including establishing a fund to pay for active restoration of impacted habitat, looking for ways to promote gas and forestry development in less critical areas for caribou, and developing an approach to industrial development that also provides sustainable jobs. The First Nation aims to meet these goals by convening a forum for collaborative action with other governments and industry.

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