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Enviro groups highlight provincial 'IOU' to caribou

The ministry of environment this week finalized a plan to protect mountain caribou habitat, but environmental groups say it has yet to meet all of the commitments promised two years ago.

The provincial government first announced details of its plan in 2007, after years of collaboration with scientists, environmental and recreation groups and logging companies.

It added 380,000 hectares to the 1.8 million hectares of caribou habitat that was already protected under park designation or previous land management plans. But in terms of habitat that also has logging potential, protection was capped at 77,000 hectares -- or about one per cent of the total timber harvest land base. At the time, ten of the environmental groups involved in the process released an open letter about the plan that protested this move.

"Because there was only a very small amount in the THLB (timber harvest land base) that was going to be protected, where that would be located was going to be a big problem because the timber industry was against it," said Anne Sherrod, chair of the Valhalla Wilderness Society. "But the reason mountain caribou are threatened with extinction is chiefly because of logging."

"There was quite a battle that was going on," she said.

The ministry of environment did not return calls by deadline on the location or total area of the timber harvest land base that was actually protected in the final plan.

John Bergenske, executive director of Wildsight, one of the groups involved in the planning process, said 78,000 hectares of habitat in the THLB has been finalized across the caribou's range.

"We've checked in with the herd scientists, they are telling us that the mapping does follow recommendations," he said.

However, he said government made commitments to do "significantly more." He said government has yet to legislate snowmobile closures in protected areas, and hasn't moved on herd augmentation (moving animals from larger herds to smaller ones.)

Bergenske also said environmental groups want assurances that protected areas will be closed to mining and power development, as well as logging.

"The fact that they've legally designated these areas now is a good step, we're really happy to see that take place," said Bergenske. "But we realize it's only halfway there in terms of what needs to be done for recovery. Until they've dealt with the areas around recreation and mineral use, and made sure this guidance is absolutely tight and there aren't loopholes in logging, we're not going to be there."

Colleen Kimmett writes on environmental issues for The Tyee.

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