Nakusp residents have formed a group to ensure the community has a say in any plans to help caribou recover in the area.
“The sentiment is, decisions could happen overnight, and there’s been no consultation with communities,” says Hugh Watt, co-chair of the newly-minted Arrow Lakes Caribou Society.
“I am sure it is all based on good intentions, but the communities have not had a voice.”
The group was formed after a series of meetings in Nakusp about the latest plans to protect caribou habitat and help the population recover in the area. In December, more than 200 Nakusp and area residents attended a meeting — a number Watt says is telling.
“The communities want to be involved in land-based decisions, this is not only their bread and butter but where they play,” he says.
Decisions a decade ago saw millions of hectares of land set aside for caribou recovery, and the indication is the next phase of recovery plans could see even more land set aside from resource extraction or recreation activities, says Watt.
Watt, who’s a community forester and consultant, says that more land sequestering may be needed, but the public should be part of the discussion process.
“Most people have a strong conservation ethic even if they’re not part of ‘X-Y-Z’ Society. They get the link between the forest, wilderness and the importance and keeping it sound.”
But he says there’s been a disconnect between decisions made far away to restrict land use and access, and the people affected by the decision.
“There’s been no socio-economic analysis, and the scientific connection between setting aside the land and helping the caribou,” he says. “The connection is iffy to most people.”
The ALCS is still in its early days, Watt emphasizes. The group has met just a few times, and still has to decide on the scope of its activities, its membership and structure, its positions on issues, and what role it hopes to have in the development of any recovery plans.
But he says a few things are likely to come out of the planning: the society could act as a local communication link between the community and higher levels of government; it could help disseminate information and help build buy-in to caribou recovery plans; and it can help bring local knowledge to the decision-making process.
“In a democratic process maybe it’s possible to make a feel-good decision from afar, but will have no effect, or negative effect, or be a waste of effort,” he says. “So it should be tailored by communities.”
Listening to the communities affected by land restrictions can only bring better planning, and better buy-in, says Watt.
Other members of the society agree.
“We want to be part of a caribou recovery partnership, that is one of our main goals,” says Brent Wanstall, a member of the Harlow Creek Touring Group Society. He sits on the ALCS board to ensure his group’s interests are at the table.
“We want to be doing it with the voice of the community, and we want to work with the government and other partners to have that local representation here. These decisions have a huge impact on our local community.”
Brent says many stakeholder groups — hikers, bikers, loggers, ATVers, snowmobilers, skiers and others — are sitting on the board to ensure their voice is heard.
“For a community not to be involved … we have a lot at stake here because there are potentially some widespread implications of these decisions for land usage,” he adds. “So it’s important for all of these communities to be involved, to think about this.”
Watt points to other local caribou societies, in the Peace River area and Revelstoke, that have been deeply involved in both the planning and implementation of recovery activities. He hopes a group around the Arrow Lakes would be able to have the same input.
“The other approach is to do nothing, and have a bunch of stuff thrust upon us that might make sense, but we’ll never know because the decisions are being made in a black box,” he says. “It may not be, but that’s the current community perception.”
Anyone interested in taking part in the society is welcome to attend upcoming meetings.