Here in Canada, the backcountry is everything to Northerners. People here in the Peace region and rural B.C. often depend on the backcountry for their living — from our forestry and natural resource industries to our local tourism. Even in our spare time, the vast spaces of our backcountry become our playground and are where most of us enjoy our hobbies and leisure. Our backcountry is more than our home, it’s our way of life. And a lifetime of learning about it and connecting with it has given us unique respect, appreciation, and desire to protect it at all costs.

You can certainly understand the frustration of our locals when NDP government officials down in Victoria — who perhaps don’t share the same experience — decide they have a better understanding of what we should be able to do in our own backyards. In a surprise announcement just before Christmas, the NDP government declared that around 454,000 hectares of Crown land in 13 snowmobile riding areas are now closed to protect caribou habitat and population recovery.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has stated that 71 per cent of riding areas will remain open, but it doesn’t take a cartographer to figure out that riders will be impacted. To access the unrestricted areas, riders will have to navigate around some of the restricted zones and navigate terrains not suitable for inexperienced riders. In reality, these changes have rendered closer to 70 per cent of the region un-ridable.

To make matters worse, these changes have completely gone against the recommendations of our local clubs and businesses, who will see a significant loss of revenue from these changes. The snowmobile association invested over 500 hours and over a year of research to submit a requested report to the government. This in-depth research was then completely ignored. Government hasn’t even looked at the socioeconomic impacts!

The NDP has also claimed that discussions were held with local governments such as the Regional District, Mackenzie, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, and Fort St. John. But our local leaders have stated that is simply not accurate and that they were not consulted at all. Rural British Columbians want to preserve our caribou populations and local ecosystem, but time and again, we have seen this government ignore local voices and steam ahead with a plan that does more harm to local regions than good for the caribou populations — and this is just the latest example.

I have penned a letter to the Premier along with Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier and local MP Bob Zimmer calling on John Horgan to rescind this decision and to come back to the community to listen and respect the work and voices of our local experts. Together, we can come up with a more agreeable solution that will allow us to protect our caribou populations without taking away one of our region’s greatest pastimes in one of the world’s greatest backyards.