Caribou protection plan threatens tourism, forestry in Revelstoke, city staff warn

The provincial government is currently accepting feedback on proposed changes to the Caribou Recovery Program, which include limiting access to certain backcountry areas.

Proposed changes to protection plan include restricting areas of the backcountry

Protecting declining caribou herds means protecting their habitat, says B.C.'s minister of forests. (The Canadian Press)

The city of Revelstoke, B.C., is worried about the effect a $27-million plan to protect caribou could have on local forestry and tourism industries. 

The provincial government is currently accepting feedback on proposed changes to the Caribou Recovery Program, which include limiting access to certain backcountry areas.

Nicole Fricot, director of community economic development in Revelstoke, B.C., presented a report outlining concerns to city council on Tuesday.  

"We want to make sure that a science-based approach is taken, that [the new plan is built on] the previous work that has already been done … and, really, that stakeholders are consulted," she told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Several programs are already in place to protect caribou in the area, like the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project, in which caribou give birth and raise their calves for up to six months in a protected area. (Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild)

Measures to protect the region's caribou are nothing new and something Revelstoke supports, she emphasized. But she said she wants to see more clarity in the drafted plan. 

"It's not clear what will happen to our area," she said.

Restricting access to the backcountry so that caribou can recover their numbers, could shut down businesses like heli-skiing and snowmobiling, as well as forestry companies who operate in the areas, Fricot said.  

"That's a huge impact on forestry, that's impact on tourism and those are our major drivers at this point, those are huge potions of our economy," she said.

"We could be in serious trouble."

Striking a balance

The province's initiative comes in response to a decline in the number of woodland caribou in B.C., from 40,000 in the 1900s to less than 19,000.

They are now considered threatened under the federal Species At Risk Act.

"To protect them, we need to protect habitat," said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

"But I certainly understand the concerns about impacts on local economies."

Donaldson says the ministry will be engaging with the community and continue to seek public feedback on the plan.

"We need to strike a balance between the federal and provincial recovery requirements and the needs of local residents," he said.

The provincial government is looking into a $27-million plan to protect caribou in British Columbia but some municipalities are worried the changes could have a negative impact on local forestry and tourism. 9:57

With files from Daybreak South.

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