Rik Logtenberg says the City of Nelson is making the ecosystem a priority by supporting a provincial and federal plan to restore the caribou population.
Logtenberg was one of four city councillors to vote in favour of supporting the draft Section 11 agreement under the Species at Risk Act at a meeting last week. The bilateral plan, which includes First Nations collaboration, commits to restoring and protecting Southern Mountain Caribou.
The species’ extensive range, which includes Nelson and the Kootenays, runs from the Canada-United States border to north of Prince George. The local South Selkirk and Purcell herds are essentially extinct after the last two cows and a bull were relocated to a maternity pen near Revelstoke in January.
Logtenberg said the letter of support for the agreement makes it clear the city wants a voice in the process.
“Do we want to take a strictly resource and recreation-focused approach that our ecosystem is for human use and that everything else is secondary? Or do we want to take an approach in which the ecosystem is first and we are just one of the members of that ecosystem?
“This council is making it clear that we’re taking the second approach, that the ecosystem comes first because it’s the ecosystem that sustains life.”
The B.C. caribou population has dropped from 40,000 to 15,000 over the last decade, according to the provincial government. Predators and habitat alteration and loss due to natural resource development and recreation are considered the main reasons for the falling caribou numbers.
About 250 people participated in a caribou panel in Nelson last month that was part of a public consultation tour hosted by the provincial government. The deadline for public feedback on the plan ends May 31.
Council wasn’t unanimous in support of the letter. Logtenberg and councillors Keith Page, Brittny Anderson and Jesse Woodward supported the motion, while Mayor John Dooley and councillors Janice Morrison and Cal Renwick spoke in opposition to it.
Dooley raised concerns about what the agreement would mean for the outdoor recreation industry. Currently, the draft only commits to “ongoing engagement with recreation stakeholders around motor vehicle closures in place to protect Southern Mountain Caribou.”
Logtenberg said he sees Section 11 as more of a baseline agreement that the caribou need saving, and that the recreation users such as snowmobilers should be included in consultation.
“If it’s going to require some restrictions on heli-skiing or where you are sledding, then I bet you if they are brought into the conversation in that way then they are going to be constructive partners in it,” said Logtenberg.
“I think that’s the goal, to get us to a place where it works for everybody and then it’s sustainable in the long run. It’s going to mean some restrictions, but I’m hoping it’s a restriction that is seen as positive by everybody.”
That restriction may not actually be seen as a positive by the logging industry.
Section 11 cites natural resource development, specifically the removal of old forest and the construction of logging roads, as one of the reasons for the caribou decline.
Logtenberg said current B.C. logging practices are unsustainable — he has also lobbied for an end to private logging south of Nelson near Cottonwood Lake — and that caribou are only the latest casualty of a system in need of change.
The proposed plan to save the caribou, he hopes, will fuel that change.
“Make no mistake, it is a compromise and maybe some more compromise has to happen,” he said. “But the key thing is that it’s a pretty strong beginning.”