April 26, 2019 – Prince George, British Columbia
Parliamentary Secretary Sean Fraser issued the following statement today on behalf of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna:
“We are working with the Province of British Columbia, Indigenous leaders, communities and industry in the Peace River region to reach a constructive resolution that ensures the protection and recovery of the Southern Mountain Caribou , while also supporting local workers and communities dependent on resource development. Urgent action is needed to ensure this iconic species are not driven to extinction in northeastern B.C. The Government of Canada is also standing up for local jobs and sustainable economic development in the Peace River region.
“This week, we heard directly from many people in the region who have serious concerns about how their jobs and communities could be affected by the proposed measures. We acknowledge and understand those concerns, and we are working closely with B.C. and all parties involved to proactively address those concerns in any measures to protect the caribou.
“British Columbians know firsthand that a strong economy depends on a healthy environment, and they expect governments to take serious action to protect species at risk. Decades of inaction by successive provincial governments have resulted in the critical situation we face today. The Government of Canada is required by law to step in to protect species at risk if other measures taken by the responsible province are not effective.
“It’s clear to all parties involved that, if we don’t act now, we could lose the caribou forever. This is why the Government of Canada has invested significantly in conservation measures for southern mountain caribou, and is currently seeking input on draft agreements with the Province of B.C. and with B.C. and several First Nations communities.
“In particular, the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations have shown critical leadership in working with B.C. and Canada on solutions to protect the southern mountain caribou. I am profoundly disappointed that some individuals are trying to spread misinformation and stoke division and discrimination in an effort to block action to protect caribou in the region.
“The Government of Canada is committed to working with the province, concerned citizens, community leaders, Indigenous peoples and industry to promote informed, inclusive and productive public engagement on this issue. We will continue to seek public input on this critical issue until May 31.”
Canada’s caribou have important cultural, subsistence and spiritual value for many Canadians and particularly for many Indigenous peoples. Scientists also see caribou as an indicator species because their population levels reflect the health of the forested ecosystems in which they live. Over the past five years, southern mountain caribou populations declined by 35%, from 5,800 to 3,800 animals, largely due to habitat fragmentation. Southern mountain caribou have been listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) since 2003.
In May 2018, Minister McKenna announced that the southern mountain caribou is facing an imminent threat based on a scientific assessment. Although land management is a provincial responsibility, the federal government has a legal obligation under the Act, to ensure appropriate measures are taken to protect at-risk species. The Minister is obligated under SARA to recommend to Cabinet an emergency protection order to respond to the imminent threat finding. If the province of British Columbia does not take adequate measures to protect the southern mountain caribou, the federal government could issue an emergency protection order under SARA.
Since 2017, British Columbia and Canada have been developing a Bilateral Conservation Agreement under Section 11 of the federal Species at Risk Act (“Section 11 Agreement”). The draft Section 11 Agreement contains overarching commitments, measures and strategies for the recovery of southern mountain caribou in British Columbia. The current draft Section 11 Agreement builds on the draft Agreement that was shared with the public in November 2017 expanding its scope from the Central Group to all of southern mountain caribou in British Columbia. British Columbia, Environment and Climate Change Canada, West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations have developed a draft Inter-Governmental Partnership Agreement for the Conservation of the Central Group of the southern mountain caribou (“Partnership Agreement”).
The province of British Columbia is leading public consultations on these two draft agreements for southern mountain caribou conservation, and recently extended the consultation period until May 31. These agreements are just one part of many steps the Government of Canada is taking to protect caribou. In 2018, we finalized a Federal Action Plan for Boreal Caribou, and proposed an order under SARA to protect their critical habitat on federal lands. Environment and Climate Change Canada also received significant funding in Budget 2018 for its Nature Legacy Initiative, including $15.5 million specifically for the recovery of southern mountain caribou in both British Columbia and Alberta, and has already contributed $5.35 million of these funds to support recovery efforts in British Columbia over the next three years.