BC and Canada Partner with First Nations to Protect Endangered Caribou and Indigenous Sacred Lands

VANCOUVER, Feb. 21, 2020 /CNW/ - There is a special place in the Peace River Region of Northeast BC where two ancient mountains rise up and stand together on the horizon.  Known locally as the Twin Sisters, these mountains have always been a sacred place for indigenous peoples in the region and across North America. 

Saulteau First Nations (CNW Group/Donovan & Company)

Up until the 1960s, the Twin Sisters and nearby mountain ranges supported thousands and thousands of caribou.  But those populations began to decline when their migratory routes were flooded by the WAC Bennett Dam.  The declines accelerated as successive provincial governments made unsustainable land use decisions, further fragmenting critical caribou habitats.   

The Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations have been calling for the recovery of the caribou herds and the protection of the Twin Sisters area for many decades.  Their advice was largely ignored until, in 2014, the Burnt Pine Herd near Chetwynd, BC was finally extirpated.  That same year the Klinse-za Herd at Twin Sisters was reduced to just 16 animals. 

Saulteau responded by hosting several conferences and workshops with experts and local stakeholders to identify solutions.  The result was an innovative, indigenous-led emergency recovery program that has since become the most successful program of its kind anywhere in the world.  In just five years, using traditional knowledge and western science, Saulteau and West Moberly have helped the Klinse-za Herd rebound from a low of 16 to around 100 and growing.

Unfortunately, despite the success of that emergency recovery program, the caribou populations in the Peace Region and elsewhere in BC continue to be threatened with extinction.  Four herds have recently been extirpated in BC.  Two other herds in the Peace Region – the Quintette and Narraway Herds near Tumbler Ridge – are also dangerously close to extinction. 

In May 2018, after years of study, the federal government determined that there is an 'imminent threat' to caribou recovery in British Columbia, and called on the provincial government to take action.  The next step would have been an 'emergency order' to protect caribou habitat under the federal Species At Risk Act.  Instead the two levels of government turned to Saulteau and West Moberly and asked them to share their knowledge and experience, and help develop a new approach to caribou recovery.

Today, BC, Canada, Saulteau and West Moberly announced the signing of the Intergovernmental Partnership Agreement for the Recovery of the Central Group of Southern Mountain Caribou.  This new partnership may prove to be a historic step forward and a major new milestone in the protection of endangered species and biodiversity in British Columbia and Canada. 

The Partnership Agreement was negotiated over a two-year period.  During that time the governments took care to ensure that the Agreement would maintain opportunities for natural resource projects in the mining, forestry, and oil and gas sectors, while at the same time providing for new habitat protections, including the expansion of the Provincial Park at Twin Sisters. 

Saulteau Chief Ken Cameron welcomed the Partnership Agreement and the protection of the Twin Sisters area.  He explained, "Many years ago our ancestors were given a prophecy from the Creator.  The prophecy says that we will find sanctuary at the Twin Sisters mountains.  Our people have always kept faith with the prophecy, we know it to be true.  It is so fitting that by protecting the Twin Sisters area here today, we can now also give sanctuary to our endangered caribou in the future."

Chief Cameron also expressed the view that the protection of Twin Sisters area can have positive impacts for the Northeast region.  He said, "This will help make British Columbia a better place to live for everyone.  It shows that we can find ways to balance the environment and the economy.  And it brings increased certainty for indigenous people, government, and industry." 

The Partnership Agreement has been the subject of some local controversy, fueled in part by a misinformation campaign and petition that mistakenly claimed the Agreement was intended to "shut down" recreational access to the backcountry.  Those false claims caused a racist backlash on social media and in local communities.  

But Chief Cameron praised the new partnership.  He said, "I want to thank the previous and the current provincial governments, and the Government of Canada, for taking steps to protect caribou and the Twin Sisters area.  I also want to thank all those industry and local government leaders who agreed to take a stand against racism and to dispel the misinformation that has been circulating in local communities." 

Chief Cameron concluded, "We are helping caribou populations recover and we are protecting our culture.  It's working, and there's nothing to fear, the sky is not falling."

Sources and Additional Quotes

  • "This is a powerful moment in history, and it's a turning point for B.C. and Canada and First Nations. People working together to save a species from extinction – it's real and we can do this – our new partnership agreement confirms it. I want to invite all people to join with us, support us, and help make it happen, for the future generations to come." - Chief Ken Cameron, Saulteau First Nations

  • "Our First Nations are united and our caribou recovery program is working. Our approach is based on our traditional knowledge of the herds and the landscape. That is one of the reasons we have been successful. But there is more work to be done. A long-term commitment by the federal and provincial government will be necessary to save these caribou herds." - Chief Ken Cameron, Saulteau First Nations

  • "This is the first partnership agreement made under the federal Species At Risk Act. It is a tremendous achievement for the federal, provincial, and indigenous governments. Caribou can have a future in BC because of these kinds of collaborations." – James Hickling, lawyer for Saulteau First Nations

  • "Every Canadian can be proud of the work that First Nations are doing to help save endangered caribou. We decorate our quarters with caribou because they matter to us. There is actually a lot of common ground on these issues, but it takes courage and good will to see it, too often we are blinded by racism and fear." - James Hickling, lawyer for Saulteau First Nations

  • The 2014 federal recovery strategy is available here: https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_woodland_caribou_bois_s_mtn_pop_0114_e.pdf

  • A summary of the federal government's May 2018 'imminent threat' assessment is available here: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/related-information/responds-imminent-threats-recovery-caribou-sm.html

  • The full federal government's 'imminent threat' assessment is available here: https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/ImminentThreatAnalysisSmc-v00-2018Jun-Eng.pdf

SOURCE Donovan & Company

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