FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Peace River Regional District is penning a letter to the province after an in-depth discussion Thursday on the government’s lack of transparency regarding snowmobiling restrictions in the South Peace to protect caribou habitat.

During Thursday’s PRRD board meeting, Director of Electoral Area E, Dan Rose, says that residents who put in over 500 hours to develop options and mitigation strategies were “totally ignored” and that the province was “dishonest” in their December press release announcing their decision.

“There is a disconnect in what was said and what’s actually happening there. If we’re going to continue to talk and hope to have the input from folks, they have to hope and understand that their time committed is actually going to be looked at, but none of it was,” Rose stated.

In the release, the province claimed that the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development spoke with local governments, including Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, and the B.C. Snowmobile Federation.

Rose says that there wasn’t a collaborative effort made with local communities.

“From conversations with some of the folks in those communities, they’re a little mystified by that comment as well,” Rose continued.

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead echoed Rose’s statements.

“Our council were disappointed with the direction the province took with respect to the partnership agreement and how we were never engaged. We never sat at the table. They never engaged with us. And then on December 22nd, they drop a news release about what they said were going to be continuing discussions and negotiations,” Bumstead said.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman says she’s concerned that the province alluded to being in discussions with local governments.

“That would give the impression that there was some really good dialogue that happened. I think it was probably more of a consultation. We talked. They listened, and it didn’t come out anywhere. There were no conversations about solutions,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman also said that when talks began, both the federal and provincial governments told local First Nations not to speak with municipal governments.

“That has been a very divisive part about this whole process,” Ackerman said.

Bumstead says that when this issue initially escalated, it amplified racism towards the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, and he’s worried it may continue to percolate.

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Keith Bertrand says he was told that after the Snowmobile Advisory Committee submitted their report, their work, which he says took over a year to compile, contributed to having any areas left open to snowmobilers.

“All of our work contributed to the little areas that we have left open. If we hadn’t have compiled the real value of snowmobiling to the riders in the area. It would have been a blanket closure. I’m happy for the fact that we have a little bit of area open,” Bertrand explained.

Around 454,000 hectares of Crown land were closed to snowmobiles in 13 of 21 identified riding areas, according to the ministry. The province claims that riding opportunities remain in 71 per cent of the areas identified as being important to snowmobilers.

Bertrand says the 70 per cent open to snowmobilers isn’t as accessible as it may sound on paper.

“To get to the 70 per cent that’s open, you have to cross a 1400 meter mark, which has closed. More work needs to be done for legal access trails, which we recommended in the South Peace snowmobile deal advisory report,” Bertrand clarified.

Bertrand says the province also ignored several other recommendations the Snowmobile Advisory Committee made.

The province says $150,000 is being provided through its B.C. Caribou Recovery Program to help local snowmobile clubs plan enhancement projects outside of the areas being managed to protect caribou habitat.

Projects could include new access, maintenance of existing trails and other projects identified by the clubs.