FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The British Columbia government is looking for input on a draft management plan to mitigate the impacts of winter motorized recreation on caribou recovery.

The draft plan was released on May 19th by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

There has been a significant decline in Southern Mountain Caribou over the past three generations, says the report.

In February 2020, the B.C. government, federal government, West Moberly First Nations, and Saulteau First Nations signed the Intergovernmental Partnership Agreement for the Conservation of the Central Group to the Southern Mountain Caribou.

The goal of the agreement is “immediately stabilizing and expeditiously growing the population of the Central group to levels that are self-sustaining and support traditional Aboriginal harvesting activities, consistent with existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”

A driver of the South Peace Region’s winter tourism economy is winter motorized recreation activities. The report admits that motorized recreation activities are not the primary threat to caribou recovery, it can displace and disturb caribou during sensitive periods of the year, increasing the risk of predation.

The purpose of the Winter Motorized Recreation Management Plan in the South Peace is to “manage winter motorized recreation in a manner that supports the achievement of the Shared Recovery Objective.”

Secondary objectives of the plan include “maintaining the use of the highest value and most unique winter motorized recreation areas and a diverse mix of winter motorized recreation opportunities in the region.”

The other secondary objective is to “support the development or enhancement of winter motorized recreation destinations in areas that likely represent a low risk to the caribou recovery, in order to support the region’s winter motorized recreation visitor economy.”

Management measures could include full-season closure areas, partial-season closure areas, active management areas, and enhancement areas.

The deadline to submit comments is June 30th. After the public consultation period ends, the next step is a legal consultation with First Nations from July 15th to August 15th.

A report will be released with compiled public input in late August, the decision by the province will be made by September, and the plan will be implemented in October 2021.