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Revelstoke forest industry: proposed federal mountain caribou recovery plan will be ‘catastrophe’ for industry
A Revelstoke-based forest industry stakeholder group is joining provincial and regional forest industry associations in their opposition to a proposed federal plan to save mountain caribou.
The Revelstoke-based Columbia River Wet Belt Group has joined the Council of Forest Industries and the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association in a warning that the recently-announced federal plan will have “devastating” and “catastrophic” impacts on the B.C. Interior forest industry, including here in Revelstoke.
They are rallying against the ‘Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain Caribou population in Canada,’ a federal recovery plan which opened for consultation on January 17, 2014 – just three days after the federal government lost a court challenge brought on by a coalition of environmental groups.
[Editor's note: Four documents are embedded at the bottom of this story, including the proposed federal caribou recovery plan, a January Federal Court order, and two lobbying letters from forest industry representatives.]
The environmental groups – including Ecojustice, Wildsight, David Suzuki Foundation, Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club of B.C. – challenged the federal government’s lack of action implementing Species at Risk Act (SARA) plans. Their lawyers argued the federal government broke the law by not implementing recovery plans for threatened species.
In her Jan. 14 order, Federal Court Justice Anne Mactavish found that he Minister of the Environment “has acted unlawfully in failing to post proposed recovery strategies for the … Southern Mountain Caribou within the statutory timelines prescribed in the Species at Risk Act.”
As part of the legal proceedings, the Minister of Environment’s lawyers committed to posting the Southern Mountain Caribou recovery plan by Jan. 17, 2014 – it should have been done by 2007 under SARA legislation.
The B.C. forest industry stakeholders are concerned the federal plan was done hastily – triggered in part by the court action – and criticize it on several points.
They say it’s a broad plan that doesn’t mesh well with the existing provincial mountain caribou recovery plan. They say it’s vague on key points; for example, it relies on percentage targets to describe how much low-level critical habitat has been set aside, but doesn’t elaborate with equivalent maps.
Stella-Jones Revelstoke forester Ashley Ladyman is the chairperson of the Columbia River Wet Belt Group. “It blindsided everybody,” he told the Times Review of the federal plan.
Ladyman said the local stakeholders’ group was forced to react.
PHOTO: Revelstoke's largest mill, Downie Timber, is a key economic driver in the community, employing hundreds, and supporting many more businesses in harvesting, forestry, transportation and supporting services. Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review file photo
He said stakeholders had put significant effort into the existing provincial plan – the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan (MCRIP) – which was enacted in 2007, including careful tailoring at the regional level. This included significant reductions in the harvestable land base around Revelstoke.
He said the federal plan was “heavy-handed and unstrategic,” saying it wasn’t clear how it’s meant to overlap with the existing provincial plan. The wet belt group is recommending alignment with the provincial plan, and points to habitat mapping as an example.
The Revelstoke industry group also criticizes the federal plan for insufficient work on predator management, saying the wording is “vague” and wouldn’t force necessary “intensive and extensive” predator control plans.
Ladyman said the forest industry had given up harvestable land in the Revelstoke region (and beyond) to enact the provincial plan. However, other pillars of the plan, like predator control, have not been brought into force. They call on the provincial and federal governments to align their plans, and to put resources behind predator control initiatives.
Is Revelstoke industry convinced the federal plan will lead to “devastating” and “catastrophic” job losses in forestry here, as they say? Or is this just industry protecting its interests?
“We picked those words absolutely deliberately. We fully believe it,” Ladyman said. “There’s only so many places to go log, and it’s getting tougher and tougher. It will cause a reduction in allowable cuts, and reduction in our amount of economy of scale we can put towards making the business still work, no question.”
In a Mar. 18 letter federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq, the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) and the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association (ILMA) criticizes the federal plan on issues including critical habitat, “very weak” predator control, climate change impacts, and the plan’s “devastating impacts on the Interior forest industry of B.C.”
They underscore their involvement in the provincial MCRIP plan, including 2.2 million hectares set aside for habitat preservation.
“We are not convinced that further habitat preservation is required as evidenced by the declining caribou population trends in pristine areas such as Jasper and Banff National Parks and Wells Gray Provincial Park,” they write.
They call for an evaluation of the socio-economic impact the federal plan will have.
They dismissed the plan as ineffective: “The proposed [federal] recovery strategy does not recognize management practices that have either succeeded or failed in the past,” states the letter co-signed by COFI president James Gorman and ILMA president James Hackett. “This strategy does not provide the foundation for an evidence-based, feasible approach to improving chances for caribou recovery.”
They call for the federal government to re-consider the existing provincial plan.
When contacted by the Times Review, Kootenay-Columbia Member of Parliament David Wilks said he’d printed out the federal recovery plan for reading on the flight to Ottawa.
The Conservative MP expressed his opposition to the federal plan, but noted the complexity of the matter due to court challenges. If the government doesn’t act, it could find itself before the courts again.
Wilks said the plan needs to sync better with the provincial plan: “The mapping is – pardon the pun – all over the map. It becomes a significant challenge for the forestry industry to try to make a living on significantly reduced landmass.
“There’s no reason why you can’t find a balance that satisfies the courts, satisfies the feds, satisfies the province, satisfies those that are concerned about this species, and the forest industry. You just can’t say no more logging.”
Wilks said he didn’t believe removing land base from forestry use was the answer. He pointed to declining herds in regional national parks as an example.
“If the maps are redrawn, and as a result of that we have hundreds of people unemployed, what are they going to do?” he asked. “As you know, in the Revelstoke area, forestry is a livelihood. It’s what makes or breaks this area.”
Columbia River–Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald serves as opposition critic for forestry. Like other local and regional politicians, he got the forest industry stakeholders’ letter.
“What I took away from the letter is if the province is doing something and the federal government is doing something, I would be concerned if those activities weren’t aligned,” he said.
Macdonald felt the two plans need to come together in some way. He also said he’s been raising issues related to wolf “harvesting” during budget estimates.
“[The government] did say there was shooting of wolves, and there was trapping going on,” Macdonald said. “My understanding is there is a certain amount of predator control going control on.” He said, however, the government isn’t providing the latest version of the grey wolf draft management plan, making it difficult to determine what’s happening.
At Revelstoke City Council’s Mar. 25 meeting mayor David Raven noted the issue could have big implications for the town. He said it’s unclear if the City of Revelstoke will take a position, or what it will be. He noted the city was “very active” in work leading to the provincial recovery plan.
What happens next? Federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq is under pressure from the court, which has an oversight role in seeing a mountain caribou recovery plan implemented. The anticipated timeline is weeks to months, with a subsequent “action plan” to follow.
In Revelstoke, Ash Ladyman of the Columbia River Wet Belt Group say they’ve come to the game late, just before the input window on the federal plan closed in late March.
He is concerned all the work on the caribou issue in Revelstoke could be swept away for a large federal plan that covers huge swaths of B.C. “Especially in our neck of the woods. I think the habitat part is very good,” Ladyman said. “We’re pretty advanced, I think we’re getting caught up in a bigger issue.”
Provincial government communications staff did not provide a response to Times Review questions in time for our press time.
Here are relevant source documents relating to this story:
A PDF of the federal government's proposed woodland caribou recovery plan entitled: Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou Southern Mountain population (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Canada:
A January Federal Court order and reasons for order by Justice Mactavish pertaining to Species at Risk Act legislation, including the proposed federal mountain caribou plan:
A Revelstoke-area forest industry coalition called the Columbia River Wet Belt Group is lobbying for changes to the proposed federal woodland caribou recovery plan which was introduced in early 2014:
The Council of Forest Industries are lobbying government and stakeholders with their concerns about the proposed federal caribou recovery plan: