MLA Leonard Spoke about Caribou and Science-Based Wildlife Practices in the House

Today, MLA Leonard spoke about Caribou and Wildlife practices in the House. You can watch the video here or read the transcript below. 


I thank the member for Peace River South for raising the important topic of science-based wildlife management, and I’d like to share a positive local science-based wildlife management story from Courtenay-Comox.

Comox Valley Project Watershed has undertaken many projects to restore habitat which supports the recovery of fish and wildlife. One major initiative that is underway right now involves a brownfield site where a sawmill on the estuary closed in the mid-2000s. This project has been given a name in the language of the K’ómoks peoples. It’s Kus-kus-sum, which refers to this land as a historic tree burial site of the K’ómoks First Nation.

I’m proud that this very local non-profit stepped into reconciliation with the K’ómoks peoples, along with the city of Courtenay. They’re all moving together with respect and intention to restore the property to a natural state. In the end, K’ómoks First Nation will retain ownership and take on the stewardship of a rich habitat that will nurture fish and wildlife as well as mitigate the impacts of climate change for human settlement. It’s an amazing recipe of science mixed with a very human dynamic, where all interests are served.

I think the member opposite mentioned the science team that, in 2005, reported on how the caribou have been in B.C. for over 10,000 years and how the geographic distribution of First Peoples was based on the geographic distribution of the caribou. The caribou have been essential to Indigenous people for food and clothing for millennia.

The abundance of the caribou began its drastic decline after the introduction of the industrial world to its habitat. The federal government placed it on the threatened wildlife species list in 2003. I have to ask myself, as others: what impactful actions did the former provincial government take when, 15 years later, the federal government raised the threat to the southern mountain caribou to “immi­nent” in May last year?

Immediate action is required where we face a federal emergency order to protect caribou and their habitat from further development and disturbance, under the Species at Risk Act. Fortunately, Canada has been willing to work with the province and First Nations to create agreements outlining overarching commitments with measures and stra­tegies for recovery while minimizing the impacts to local government, communities and industry.

These agreements are novel and complex. The rights and interests of First Nations are protected by the constitution, and it is incumbent that caribou recovery involve government-to-government processes with them. Like the Kus-kus-sum initiative in my community, the Peace can embrace reconciliation in action as the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, with their shared interest, take ongoing leadership in the caribou recovery.

Science and socioeconomic interests are not mutually exclusive to effective wildlife management. The caribou is the most studied species, yet the populations continue to decline. The four key threats are not independent of one another, so action on all fronts is required, with emphasis on the biggest threats.

The member opposite mentioned the first and most important: predation. The second is habitat changes; the third, disturbances; and fourth, climate change. Monitoring and updating the plan annually can pave the way for eventual recovery that we have not yet seen.

We know that measures to recover caribou will have impacts on economic activities in and around protected habitat, and we recognize that people are concerned. So how do we save the southern mountain caribou from extinction while minimizing impacts to people and the economy of the area?

A trusted leader in the Peace, Coun. Blair Lekstrom, has been hired for the extended consultation process. This is a time to make sure that the public, industry, recreation groups and local governments can have confidence that their interests will inform the final Canada-B.C. agreements and decisions.