The B.C. government has imposed an interim moratorium on new resource development in northern areas where the southern mountain caribou are struggling for survival, an effort to allow the creation of a permanent strategy to facilitate the species’ well-being.
The moratorium, affecting prospective mining, forestry and oil and gas initiatives in about 734,000 hectares of the province’s Peace region, is officially supposed to last until June of 2021, but Premier John Horgan said he expects a resolution by Christmas.
The moratorium was received with caution. Forest industry representatives worry a halt on new activity in the area will lead to further job losses in an industry already hard hit. On the other hand, the leadership of the area First Nation questioned why the moratorium was only temporary, noting action is needed now to save the species.
Although the southern mountain caribou have been in peril for decades, Mr. Horgan’s NDP government was forced to act after the federal environment minister said, without a provincial plan, she would be required to impose one. An initial attempt to address the problem was shelved after community outcry, so the NDP hired former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Blair Lekstrom in April to recommend a path forward.
“We need to do something about the caribou. Everyone acknowledges that. The challenge is how we do that together,” Mr. Horgan said.
Both Mr. Horgan and Mr. Lekstrom expressed concerns about racist and intolerant views that have been expressed because of, as the Premier put it, a lack of understanding about what the two orders of government and Indigenous communities were talking about regarding caribou.
Mr. Horgan denounced the “courageous people at their keyboards” making provocative statements on social media that inflame insensitivity.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has warned of the provincial need for a plan to protect the caribou’s habitat after what she recently described as “decades of mismanagement” by the B.C. government.
Unless the government could come up with a plan, she warned she might get an emergency protection order to deal with the plight of the caribou.
In his report, Mr. Lekstrom suggested that could “sterilize” a significant portion of the northern B.C. land base where the caribou live, preventing any resource development activity.
Mr. Horgan said he was confident Ottawa would back the province’s approach.
“I believe the federal government fully understands where we’re going on this and they’re giving us the latitude, as they should, to find a way forward that’s in the interests of the community and the caribou,” the Premier said.
In a statement, Ms. McKenna’s press secretary said she welcomed B.C. action, including the announced moratorium. “We will continue to work with First Nations and the province, and engage with local communities and industry, to ensure that this iconic species gets the help that it needs, while also protecting jobs and businesses in B.C.,” Sabrina Kims said.
Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation said he was concerned about the postponement in taking action on the file given that his community’s position and the Canadian position won’t change.
The opposition B.C. Liberals, on Thursday, raised concerns about halting development in the region, suggesting in a statement that Mr. Horgan and his forests minister “botched” the consultation process on the file.
Resource industry organizations expressed mixed views on Thursday’s developments in a pair of statements.
Susan Yurkovich, president and chief executive officer of the BC Council of Forest Industries, said it was a relief that government hit the pause button to work toward a collective “right balance between caribou recovery and economic viability.”
But she warned that the moratorium must be temporary in order to avoid more job losses in the sector.
Michael Goehring, president and CEO of the Mining Association of British Columbia, said his organization appreciated the government’s attempt to balance the interests of industry, Indigenous people and communities to facilitate shared goals on caribou recovery and social and economic stability.