Governments of Canada and British Columbia to collaborate with First Nations on recovery of Southern Mountain Caribou
February 15, 2018 – Victoria, British Columbia
The herds that form the Central Group of Southern Mountain Caribou are critically important to First Nations in northeast British Columbia. Habitat loss and fragmentation have already contributed to the extirpation of one of the sub-populations of the Central Group – the Burnt Pine herd. Other caribou populations in the region continue to be seriously threatened. Those populations are either declining or have been stabilized at very low numbers that are unlikely to be sustainable in the absence of meaningful and effective action by the federal and provincial governments.
The federal Species at Risk Act authorizes the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change to enter into conservation agreements with other governments to benefit species at risk and enhance the survival of those species in the wild. A draft conservation agreement between Canada and British Columbia was published for public comment on November 27, 2017. Those governments will now revise that conservation agreement in collaboration with directly-affected First Nations, and taking into account comments received through the public consultation.
First Nations in the region have been raising concerns about the population declines and ongoing threats to caribou populations for many years. The West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations have demonstrated courageous and determined leadership, including by imposing hunting bans and by establishing the most successful caribou recovery project in North America – combining traditional knowledge and science with maternal penning to protect newborn calves from predators and industrial activities. Their efforts have helped to increase the population of the Klinse-za Herd from a low of 16 up to about 70 animals in just four years.
The governments of Canada and British Columbia recognize that the cumulative environmental impacts of past and present land use decisions have contributed to the decline of the populations of the Central Group. The governments also recognize and affirm the commitments made to West Moberly, Saulteau, and other First Nations in the Treaty 8 region. With that in mind, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia will, in partnership with First Nations, take actions to stabilize and expeditiously grow the population of the Central Group of the Southern Mountain caribou to levels which are self-sustaining and support the re-establishment of a meaningful First Nations harvest pursuant to Treaty 8.
Therefore, the governments of Canada and British Columbia will be revising their draft bilateral conservation agreement on caribou recovery, in collaboration with directly affected First Nations. The draft agreement will provide a framework for government-to-government cooperation on caribou recovery in British Columbia, including full partnerships with First Nations, BC and Canada on recovery projects, planning and related processes.
The kinds of measures that the governments of Canada and British Columbia are committed to develop and apply in future conservation agreements include: improving the provincial legislative framework for species at risk, better range planning, increased habitat protection, introducing a comprehensive habitat restoration program, enhanced support for maternity penning, controls on access to sensitive caribou habitat, reducing overlap between tenures and critical habitat, and the establishment of a restoration fund to adequately resource the long-term recovery actions necessary to support recovery of Southern Mountain Caribou.
Canada and British Columbia are expecting to conclude their negotiations on their bilateral agreement and a conservation partnership agreement with directly affected First Nations over the next few months, and to release those agreements in the Spring of 2018.
The aims of the conservation partnership agreements will be to achieve the goals of population stabilization and growth, and to set out the commitments of the cooperating governments and the measures to be taken, from planning through to implementation. Once the final agreements are in place, the intention is to expand the agreements to other southern mountain caribou groups in British Columbia.
“We are committed to working with Indigenous Peoples and British Columbia to develop and implement effective caribou recovery programs and measures based on traditional knowledge and science.”
– Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Canada
“We intend to work in partnership with Indigenous Governments and the federal government to immediately reverse the decline in caribou and restore Indigenous people’s faith in responsible, sustainable resource management in B.C.”
– George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, British Columbia
“First Nations began this journey alone by successfully challenging provincial mining permits in court. Then we started our maternal pen project and we are beginning to see some population increases. We have a lot to offer to those who will listen. Until then we will continue to take every step necessary to protect these endangered caribou herds from extinction.”
– Roland Willson, Chief, West Moberly First Nations
“Our First Nations are united and our plans to protect the caribou are clear and strong. Our approach is based on our traditional knowledge of the herds and the landscape. That is why we have been successful. We are now calling on other governments to honour the Treaty promises made to our people by taking the immediate and long-term actions necessary to save these caribou herds.”
– Ken Cameron, Chief, Saulteau First Nations
An early draft of a bilateral conservation agreement between Canada and British Columbia was posted for comment on the Species at Risk Public Registry website, from November 27, 2017 to January 19, 2018.