Updated: Video: Big turnout for B.C. caribou consultation meeting in Revelstoke

A full house for the draft federal/provincial caribou recovery plan. Find a link to the live video here.

It's standing room only at the Revelstoke Community Centre for the federal/provincial presentation on the draft Section 11 caribou recovery plan on April 15. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

It was standing room only at the Revelstoke Community Centre for the B.C. government’s engagement presentation on the draft Section 11 caribou recovery plan on Monday, April 15 at the Revelstoke Community Centre. The audience looked to be over 700 people, including some who looked on from the hallways.

The audience in the Revelstoke Community Centre main room. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

The session lasted for just under four hours. After some short presentations of each of the panelists, the bulk of the session consisted of questions from the audience and answers from the panel, which consisted of representatives from the provincial and federal governments.

In general, the audience expressed a variety of concerns about the unknowns in the draft agreement and its implications for forestry, backcountry recreation, backcountry access and the socio-economic implications of the draft plan. Many asked detail questions, trying to flesh out details of the plan.

The panel, from left: Blair Hammond, Canadian Wildlife Service – Environment and Climate Change Canada; Darcy Peel, Director – Caribou Recovery Program for the province of B.C.; Leo DeGroot, Wildlife Biologist – B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; Russ Laroche, Director of Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

The meeting lasted nearly four hours, so it’s challenging to summarize the many, many comments from the panel and the audience. There is a lot left out here; for all the comments, check the full video below. Here are some key comments from the panelists and the audience. The comments are a collection of statements made by the individuals over the evening:

  • Darcy Peel, Director – Caribou Recovery Program for the province of B.C.: Peel said there will be “intense” engagement in the future local level planning after a Section 11 agreement is in place. He said there would be socio-economic impact analysis during future planning phases. Peel said he wanted to make a statement about winter recreation, saying it had been a concern of audiences across the province. Peel said there was no changes to backcountry recreation in the Section 11 agreement, but that any potential changes to backcountry recreation would be dealt with a during later herd planning processes. “There are no backcountry closure proposals in the Section 11 agreement” he said. Peel said the government wants to move away from predator control in the long term, so their goal is to recover caribou to a level to allow the herds to be sustainable without predator control. On the subject of caribou in decline in national parks, Peel said: “It’s not all about humans,” but said in other areas, humans are a factor, so the plan was trying to address those issues.
  • Leo DeGroot, Wildlife Biologist – B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development: DeGroot said that there are a variety of management tools to help recovery caribou. He said that wolf control is a key tool, and that reduction of moose and other species another. DeGroot said that the results of caribou maternity penning was being assessed, and that the provincial government was considering a captive breeding program. He said the government was monitoring moose and wolf populations.
  • Blair Hammond, Canadian Wildlife Service – Environment and Climate Change Canada: Hammond said that information gathered during the Section 11 process, including the public consultations, will be provided to federal environment minister Catherine McKenna, who will then take the information to federal cabinet when she provides her recommendations to cabinet.
  • Revelstoke Snowmobile Club manager Teena Rumak: She asked the panel to comment on why caribou are in decline where there is no human activity, such as in Banff National Park.
  • Mike Copperthwaite, General Manager, Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation: He said the RCFC had been engaged in caribou conservation efforts in the past, but emphasized that plans in the past involved collaborative processes that involved local stakeholders. “Don’t come to us and ask us for input on something that’s already been put together,” he said.
  • Angus Woodman, plant manager, Downie Timber: He said the mill employs about 300 people and that the company has invested $140 million in upgrades. He said that Downie Timber had worked collaboratively on past caribou plans, and had also experienced reductions due to harvest area reductions due to caribou plans. He said the socio-economics of the plan has “vague” reference and that the company needed better assurance that would be looked at. “It’s that assurance I need to provide to my workers,” he said, saying it was “incredibly critical.” He said the company was ready and willing to work on caribou planning. He was concerned that further reductions to fibre supply could threaten the viability of the company.
  • Dave Seaton, Caribou & Communities Society: Seaton questioned the science behind the plan, calling some of it “biased.” He said the group started a petition about 10 days ago and had collected over 8,000 signatures. It called for more intensive local consultation and stakeholder consultation and better science, and a halt to negotiations until it is done.
  • Joe McCulloch, Columbia Shuswap Caribou & Communities Society: He criticized the process, noting that he met with Darcy Peel that morning asking if there could be an extension of the consultation period and was told no, then hours later it was announced. He said he believed Peel, but questioned the connect between the panel doing the community consultations and the politicians making decisions.
  • Gary Sulz, Mayor of Revelstoke: “We’re concerned about the framework for the Section 11,” Sulz said. “We want a seat at the table to manage our resources.” Sulz called for added wildfire resources, noting that it was reducing caribou habitat. Sulz emphasized the need for socio-economic analysis. He said the community would be “devastated” with the loss of Downie Timber, and that reductions to backcountry recreation would also be devastating to the community. He said that city council was willing to be engage on behalf of the community.
  • Jody Lownds, past president, North Columbia Environmental Society; current president of the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild Society: She said she signed the Section 80 request of the federal environment minister. She said the NCES feels disenfranchised like others do on the caribou planning process, and that the NCES doesn’t have “back door” access to the government. She said she didn’t think the NCES’s Section 80 request spurred the federal environment minister’s imminent threat declaration because it was only done a week before the minister’s declaration. She said that habitat protection was key to the long-term survival of the caribou.
  • Rhona Martin, chairperson of the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District: She said past processes had engaged the community and that there is a great deal of knowledge on the caribou issue in the community. “People need a sense of security,” she said. She encouraged the government to engage with the community.
  • Doug Clovechok, Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA: He encouraged everyone to comment on the plan and engage with him. He said he could take their concerns to Victoria.

Other developments on caribou plan on April 15

April 15 saw significant developments on the controversial rollout of the draft caribou plan.

The B.C. government announced that for the second time it is extending the deadline for public engagement on the plan.

The deadline to provide comment was first set at April 24, then extended to  May 3, and now has a new deadline of May 31. B.C. Premier John Horgan also announced the the province had appointed former Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom as a “community liaison” for the draft caribou plan, saying that he is “tasked with engaging residents in the Peace region on the draft partnership.”

In a statement, premier Horgan said that Lekstrom, who served three terms as a Liberal MLA, and is currently a councillor in Dawson Creek, was a figure people trusted: “People want to see the continued strength of our resource communities. As we meet a federal obligation to recover caribou, our government has been working to support workers and industry. Today’s announcements are part of that work. Blair Lekstrom has earned the trust and respect of residents in the Northeast. I can think of no one better to consult directly with, and fairly represent, the interests of people here.”

The Mountaineer has reported on the caribou issue for over a year, since the federal government stepped in under the Species at Risk Act. For background on the issue, see our caribou story archives here.

There were many more comments made during the meeting. The story above contains just short summaries. For all the comments from the panel and audience, watch video from the meeting here.