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Canada invokes previously unused section of Species at Risk Act to protect mountain caribou in B.C.’s Peace Region

Y2Y calls for aggressive habitat protection and restoration measures


MEDIA RELEASE | Nov. 23, 2017

Today’s announcement of a Canada-British Columbia conservation agreement for mountain caribou herds in the Peace region of B.C. is a historic first use of Section 11 of the federal Species at Risk Act, but Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is warning that aggressive habitat protection measures will be needed to reverse the precipitous decline in caribou populations in the region.

The draft agreement includes several conservation measures, including a commitment from B.C. to identify and reserve all untenured, winter and summer, high-elevation caribou range, and develop range plans in consultation with directly affected First Nations. However, Y2Y is concerned that there is no specific mention of low-elevation or matrix habitats in the government’s media materials.

“With only 219 caribou remaining in the South Peace region, meaningful federal involvement in mountain caribou conservation is both welcome, and long overdue,” says Candace Batycki, B.C. and Yukon program director for Y2Y. “Both governments have been foot-dragging on this issue for years, while the animals continue to decline. We’re on the edge of losing caribou forever in this area.”

Y2Y believes a science-based approach, consistent with the Federal Recovery Strategy developed in 2014, should be the keystone of any new agreement, including:

  • No new habitat destruction in high elevation winter range and summer range as set out in the 2014 federal recovery strategy;
  • Ensuring that at least 65 per cent of low elevation winter range be undisturbed (including disturbance buffers); and
  • Where these thresholds have been exceeded, the parties must commit to a restoration process with meaningful, achievable targets and timeframes, as well as significant investment into a restoration trust fund adequate to achieve restoration targets.

The northern and mountain ecotypes of woodland caribou have seen precipitous declines in population over the last decade, due to the loss and fragmentation of their critical habitat. The Burnt Pine herd has completely disappeared.

Despite major efforts by West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, the continued erosion of habitat from logging and fossil fuel development has hampered caribou recovery, with no moratoriums on industrial activities while negotiations among governments drag on.

“The Peace has suffered intense industrial impacts, which continue unabated to this day,” says Tim Burkhart, Peace Region coordinator for Y2Y. “Any new caribou recovery plan must decisively address this ongoing destruction of critical habitat. We look forward to working with all governments to ensure the measures taken are strong enough to actually do the job.”

This agreement between B.C. and Canada could also provide an exciting opportunity to not only recover caribou, but also protect other wildlife throughout the region, consistent with Canada’s international commitment to protect 17 per cent of its lands and inland waters by 2020.

“The Wild Hart ranges, which include much of the remaining ranges of the Quintette, Kennedy, Narraway and Klinse-za herds, are the last contiguous intact forest landscape remaining in the northeastern regions of the province,” says Burkhart. “If B.C. truly wants to save this iconic species, protecting this landscape is the first step, and has several additional benefits.”

Y2Y also notes that caribou recovery is linked to upholding treaty rights: the right to hunt caribou is enshrined in Treaty 8.

“The continued erosion of caribou critical habitat and populations has significant negative impacts on the rights, cultures and traditional livelihoods of Treaty 8 First Nations,” says Batycki. “Y2Y wants to see aggressive, but achievable, population recovery targets that ensure caribou are restored to huntable levels — as guaranteed in Treaty 8 — before important cultural knowledge is lost.”

Without proactive conservation measures, including landscape-level habitat protection and restoration of legacy habitat impacts, the fragmentation and decline of caribou will be exacerbated given the future trend of human activity and development.

Northern and mountain caribou ecotypes live nowhere else on the planet, and Y2Y welcomes the leadership of Treaty 8 First Nations, and the governments of B.C. and Canada, in ensuring these magnificent animals survive for future generations.

For further comment please contact:

Tim Burkhart, Peace River Break coordinator, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
250-719-9614 | tim@y2y.net 

Candace Batycki, B.C. and Yukon program director, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
250-352-3830 | candace@y2y.net