B.C. imposes snowmobile restrictions in South Peace region to help caribou recovery

·2 min read
Chief of the West Moberly First Nations says restrictions on snowmobiles are necessary to give caribou herds a fighting chance to survive in northeastern B.C.  (Submitted by Mark Bradley, Parks Canada - image credit)
Chief of the West Moberly First Nations says restrictions on snowmobiles are necessary to give caribou herds a fighting chance to survive in northeastern B.C. (Submitted by Mark Bradley, Parks Canada - image credit)

Snowmobiles are no longer allowed in selected areas of the South Peace region in northeastern B.C. that contain crucial caribou habitat.

The province announced Tuesday about 454,000 hectares of Crown land in 13 of 21 riding areas are closed to snowmobiles to support caribou recovery in the region.

Population counts found a decline of upward of 50 per cent of caribou in the South Peace region over the last decade, according to a 2018 science review conducted by the province. The review said the remaining caribou herds in the region are likely to be extinct in the next several decades under current conditions.

According to provincial figures, central mountain herds declined from approximately 800 animals in the early 2000s to 219 in 2019. Southern mountain herds declined from 2,500 in the mid-1990s to 1,200 in 2019.

The federal government also declared an "imminent threat" to caribou in B.C. in 2018.

The government acknowledged that snowmobiles are not the primary threat to caribou recovery, but operating the vehicles can disturb and displace them, and make them more vulnerable to predators.

Executive director of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation Donegal Wilson said the government has introduced closures in areas where caribou are not present.

"We support caribou recovery, and what was released today is not a recovery plan. It is some snowmobile closures on a map. I would like to know what the actual plan is. What will this look like in ten years?" said Wilson.

A news release from the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says the restrictions on snowmobiles are in addition to other ongoing caribou recovery measures including reducing the number of wolves that prey on caribou through aerial culling, creating pens for pregnant females and their calves, feeding and habitat protection.

In consultation with First Nations

This decision came after a 45-day consultation period with local First Nations.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations said in a statement to CBC that they have been working with the province, federal government, and Saulteau First Nations to identify protective measures for caribou recovery.

"The necessity of these closures have been identified and confirmed by top leading science," said Willson.

Willson said the new measures are necessary to give the caribou a fighting chance at survival.

"These closures and impacts to the public are a direct result of the ... government's lack of management around wildlife habitat areas."

The province said snowmobiles are still allowed in other areas in the South peace region "where their activities will have fewer impacts on caribou habitat and recovery efforts."

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