Snowmobiling in the South Peace at Risk
Snowmobiling has long been at the forefront of the mountain caribou sustainability discussion.
Over the course of decades, snowmobilers in BC have championed management plans and voluntary closures, attended strategic planning meetings, worked on recovery projects and complied with regulations regarding the presence of caribou in riding areas. Snowmobilers are some of the most passionate people about conservation of nature, and caribou sustainability is no different; we are stewards of the environment and we want to help.
However, with the latest draft of its Winter Motorized Recreation Plan for caribou conservation in the South Peace, it seems the provincial government is more interested in sweeping closures than the input of snowmobilers and local stakeholders.
In late 2017, a Partnership Agreement to work together on the conservation of the central group of the Southern Mountain Caribou in the South Peace region was drafted between the Government of BC, the Government of Canada, and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.
The underlying federal message throughout this process was clear: work with the Province of BC to help the caribou, or the feds will step in with the Species At Risk legislation hammer and shut it all down.
The Partnership Agreement sets out actions intended to recover the central group of Southern Mountain Caribou to self-sustaining levels that support traditional Indigenous harvesting activities, consistent with aboriginal and treaty rights.
As part of this process, public consultations were held, but in the end the Partnership Agreement moved forward as drafted, with two additions: A “what we heard” report was attached, and “Clause 37” was added, which outlines the commitment to consult with snowmobilers and local government.
Recommendations from Snowmobile Advisory Committee Denied
Proceeding to herd management plans, the Province of BC was this time mandated by Clause 37 to work with stakeholders.
As a result, in January 2020, the Caribou Recovery Program invited the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation (BCSF), local snowmobile clubs and governments in the South Peace area and the Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery group to come together to form the South Peace Snowmobile Advisory Committee (SPSAC).
According to the Government of BC website: “The purpose of this committee is to ensure that any snowmobile management plans for the South Peace Region are informed with local input, provide advice and guidance on how to engage with snowmobilers in the South Peace Region, review options on snowmobile management plans and provide recommendations to government before plans are finalized.”
Excited to have a seat at the table, the SPSAC focused its recommendations on a science-based approach that used telemetry data from the past five years to establish current and relevant herd data and core habitat usage. An adaptive management plan was proposed that would provide for regular reviews of factors such as changes in herd size, location and habitat needs as they recover, as well as snowmobile usage.
The goal of the SPSAC was “to support the shared recovery objective while responsibly retaining and investing in the most essential and highest value snowmobiling-based recreation and tourism opportunities in the South Peace.”
When the government came back with their Draft Winter Motorized Recreation Plan, released to the public in May 2021, it showed that once again recommendations from the snowmobile community and local stakeholders had been completely disregarded—despite significant concessions in the recommendations proposed by the SPSAC that brought the protected habitat in the South Peace to 92% and contributed significantly to the recovery objective.
South Peace Caribou Recovery
Caribou recovery in BC is a complex and challenging issue. There are many threats, but the scientific evidence presented by the SPSAC shows that snowmobiling has not been demonstrated to be a primary driver of caribou population decline or a primary barrier to recovery.
Regardless, snowmobilers would far rather work collaboratively with all of the concerned parties to move forward on a viable plan to recover caribou populations than be thrust into an adversarial role of defending our sport against sweeping decisions that aren’t supported by science.