Premier John Horgan has extended the caribou recovery public consultation period by an additional four weeks.
“We decided to add more consultation time because it was clear that the public wasn’t satisfied with the information they were getting,” said Horgan in a media conference call today (April 15).
The province has hosted public engagement session regarding caribou throughout the province, including Prince George.
The topic at hand is the draft section 11 agreement between British Columbia and Canada, which intends to set a framework for co-operation between the two governments to recover the endangered southern mountain caribou.
This consultation period is also dealing with a separate draft partnership agreement between B.C., Canada, West Moberly, and Saulteau First Nations which proposes specific habitat protection and restoration measures to recover the central group herds of southern mountain caribou.
It’s become a hot button issue throughout northern B.C., especially in the Peace Region, over concerns regarding access for the forestry industry in the area as well as access for recreational backcountry activities.
“We have been talking about caribou and their potential extinction since 2003,” said Horgan, explaining that the federal government through the Species at Risk Act has directed the province to take action.
“My biggest concern is that a region that has worked cooperatively on a whole host of issues over many generations is coming to confrontation over the caribou question. I believe everyone wants to take steps to protect caribou, and I believe everyone in the region wants to protect jobs as well.”
Horgan says to facilitate the extended period of public consultation, he has recruited former cabinet minister, former MLA, former Dawson Creek Mayor and current councillor Blair Lekstrom to act as a community liaison.
“Why I decided to bring Blair in to help me is that this is clearly an issue that has angered some people and inflamed some passions and I can’t feel that, in real time, on the ground because of my responsibilities in Victoria,” explained Horgan.
The consultation period, which was supposed to conclude April 30, will now be extended to May 31. Lekstrom will also prepare a report regarding what he hears back from the region during this period.
“We are all in this together, we all want to try and ensure we look after the caribou at the same time make sure that we maintain the quality of life we have for the people looking after their families and jobs,” said Lekstrom. “I’m confident we can do that together.”
Similar statements were echoed by Horgan, who also noted that his government, as a new government, did not adequately prepare the public for this process.
“We need to come together in the region, we need to come tougher in the province, we need to come up with a land use plan that protects jobs, protects caribou and protects the constitutional rights of indigenous people,” said Horgan.
After the public consultation period is over, the province has previously stated it will compile all feedback into a “what we heard” document that will be made publicly available and the province says all input will help inform all parties’ decision-making regarding the finalization and signing of the agreements.
“What we want to accomplish in the next six weeks is dial down the concern in the community and get back to the harmonious family atmosphere that we have in the Peace Country.”
The draft agreements, maps, and an overview of the provincial caribou recovery program are available to read in full online.