By Michael Bloomfield and Robert Bateman
More than one year ago the federal government, as required under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), ordered B.C. to protect the critical habitat of southern mountain caribou. Now that B.C. has failed, Canada must impose an emergency order for caribou to survive and the SARA process to retain any credibility.
This story began in the 1970s when biologist Michael Bloomfield and others documented that widespread destruction of habitat by logging and other resource development threatened caribou survival. These majestic animals have roamed our forests and mountains for millennia and depend on large tracts of mature forest.
Since then successive B.C. governments have allowed our forests to be over-harvested so that the future of both caribou and workers are threatened. Simultaneously they failed to diversify the northern economy as jobs were lost to automation and a declining industry.
Now we have a crisis and government lacks the courage to deal with it. Despite irrefutable scientific evidence, government caved in to a propaganda campaign pushing the tired old falsehood of jobs versus environment.
The Conservation Agreement with Canada fails in many ways, resting heavily on killing wolves and penning pregnant females while doing nothing about hunting, harassment from recreational ATVs and ignoring the prime cause of decline, logging critical habitat.
Why is the fight for caribou so important? Losing caribou, an apex species, means the loss of other wild species dependent on the same habitat. More than that, Canada’s northern forests are the world’s largest forest ecosystem, exceeding 25 per cent of the world’s remaining forest, containing 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands and more surface fresh water than anywhere else on Earth. These forests store twice as much carbon per acre as tropical rain forests and hold some of the cleanest water on the planet. They also are home to many First Nations.
Therefore, Canada’s northern forests are not only vital to our environment, culture and economy but to meeting our commitments on climate change, bio-diversity and indigenous rights. Continuing to allow damaging and unsustainable industrial practices is lousy social, economic and environmental policy. When sacred areas are despoiled, water supplies contaminated and forests decimated by logging, mining and oil and gas development, everyone loses, including our children and their children’s children.
With the stakes so high what should we do in BC? Adopt a province-wide caribou recovery plan with clear commitments for habitat protection and restoration.
• The agreement between BC and Canada fails to do that. To succeed, we also must end recreational hunting of caribou, remove RV and heli-skiing disturbance from critical habitat and abandon the heavy reliance on scientifically and morally questionable predator control.
• Convene a new Commission on Resources and Environment to update the 1996 CORE effort to lay out strategic plans and commitments for sustainability in our land-use practices. A northern economic diversification plan with input from affected communities must be part of that process.
No one demands a future without resource extraction; but it must be combined with more conscientious management of our forests, water and wildlife for generations to come. Instead of liquidating our resources for short-term gain we should learn from Norway, invest some of our resource wealth in long-term prosperity and pursue the clean-energy, knowledge-based economy of the future.
This may be our last chance to save mountain and forest-dwelling caribou in B.C.
Michael Bloomfield is Founder and Executive Director of the Harmony Foundation of Canada. Robert Bateman, renowned artist and conservationist, is Honorary Chair of the Foundation.