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FORT NELSON, B.C. – The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality saw an update on the Boreal Caribou Protection and Recovery Plan, alongside the results of public engagement on the plan, on Monday evening. 

The update covered the timeline of the current process, public engagement statistics, the plan’s effect on resources in the area, and its impact on the socioeconomic factors in the region. It also discussed upcoming steps in the coming months that will see the plan put in place.

The municipality has expressed concerns about the plan, particularly in the realm of potential socioeconomic impacts and the need for a predator management plan. 

Public engagement results

B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development received 22 written responses from First Nations and different industries, and 274 feedback forms from members of the public.

Of these respondents, 53 per cent were supportive of management goals and objectives included in the BCPRP. There was 66 per cent in support of proposed habitat management measures, 76 percent supportive of a predator management program, and 80 per cent supportive of adaptive management, evaluation, and monitoring measures. 

Generally, written submissions rested on several common themes, including land used for forestry and energy in the working landscape approach. More details were often requested regarding habitat restoration, mitigation and off-setting measures, predator management, and co-management with area First Nations. Other residents wanted to know how this would affect the future re-establishment of the petroleum and natural gas sector and the protection of gravel resources. 

Updates from province on plan

The plan, developed in collaboration with a steering committee made up of the Fort Nelson First Nation, the NRRM, and the province, is a strategy that aims to recover boreal caribou populations across their range to self-sustaining status and a level that can support Indigenous sustenance hunting. 

The plan uses methods including habitat protection; development of updated industrial guidance; habitat restoration; predator management and monitoring; and adaptive management.

Though predator management is a tool in place in other areas of the province and will be included in the current plan, it is considered a decidedly more nuclear option with less certain impacts than other methods. Only two of the five caribou herds the plan applies to are likely targets for predator management.

“We need to evaluate what would be effective… is it going to make a tangible difference to those distinct herd populations?” Chris Cooper, district manager with the ministry, said.

“Then we can start actually planning and working towards what are going to be the most effective predator management activities that we can conduct,” he continued, noting that any predator management would include consultation with hunters, guides, trap line holders, and the public. 

Predator management plan and effect on industry data considered insufficient by council

The update also included a look at the effect this plan would potentially have on industry—specifically forestry and oil and gas— in the Northern Rockies region. These numbers, however, were a decidedly high-level and hypothetical examination, considering the nonexistent expansion of these industries in the area for the past several years. 

According to one member of the council, it has been 14 years since the forestry industry has been active in the region and seven years without new oil and gas activity.

Councillor Todd Penney argued that, since caribou populations are still declining despite a lack of industry growth, an overabundance of predators must be a factor and predator management must be a more integral part of the province’s plan. 

“The predator management plan—it’s not really a plan. It isn’t a plan to me. Plans have action. And this doesn’t have any action. It’s a ‘well, maybe, if perhaps.’” he said.

Despite essentially amounting to a hypothetical consideration should industry return and expand, the council did not see the desired details in the province’s assessment of socioeconomic impacts of the plan. 

The NRRM resolved to conduct its own study, which would focus on tangible potential impacts—like the number of jobs lost—as opposed to the value-based statistics (volumes of resources) that the province used to measure effect on hypothetical oil and gas development. This statistic, Cooper said, was used in light of the industry’s historic volatility.

A role for Fort Nelson, moving forward

Other doubts were voiced about the province’s methods in crafting and calculating the plan, including the way populations of caribou herds are calculated. 

“I don’t think the numbers are accurate. I don’t think they’re putting enough emphasis on getting accurate counts,” mayor Gary Foster said. “So all their other assumptions don’t hold much water if they don’t know what the situation is.”

Council noted that the province would move ahead with its plan regardless of council’s approval or disapproval at this point. The NRRM was part of the steering committee for the project alongside Fort Nelson First Nation and the province itself. 

“We have to approve this to move it forward. They’re going to go with or without us,” councillor Danny Soles said.

Alongside council’s acceptance of the report, it also determined to craft a monitoring role for the municipality so that it will have the opportunity to participate and influence processes going forward. 

Council also passed a motion in support of making the municipality’s strong positive stance on predator management known to the province in the future.

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Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a news reporter for who recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a bachelor of arts in Media + Communications. She was born and raised just outside of Fort St. John. She began reporting for her university’s student newspaper and interned with Ottawa Life Magazine where she developed a passion for asking questions, telling stories, and the written word. In her free time, you can find her drinking coffee, snowboarding, or reading novels.