The endangered population of Caribou living north of Prince George and south of Dawson Creek got some help from the provincial government this week.
Environment Minister Terry Lake and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson announced Thursday that "90 per cent of identified high-elevation winter caribou habitat across the South Peace area will be protected to support the recovery of Northern Caribou." The new protection added to previous reserves covers a total footprint of about 400,000 hectares.
The announcement came after considerable scientific research, First Nations consultation, and dialogue with industry about their land use plans in that sensitive area.
"Habitat fragmentation and alteration from industrial development is believed to be the ultimate cause of Northern Caribou population declines in the South Peace," said government officials.
The industry-free zone will include large tracts of the Graham, Moberly, Burnt Pine, Kennedy Siding, Scott, Narraway and Quintette herd ranges.
There are an estimated 1,100 of the rare animals left in the South Peace. The plan unveiled on Thursday aims to boost the population by another 100 within the next three generational cycles. The data indicated the herd would dwindle to only 800 in the next two decades if no plan were implemented.
Elsewhere in B.C. and Alberta a total of about 17,000 caribou live. Other pocket herds have, like the South Peace herd, shrunk to small populations to the alarm of many stakeholders.
The plan commits government to population recovery work as well as land use protections, and also allows for a First Nations harvest. It also sets out measures to help the herd "in lower-elevation winter caribou habitat to minimize habitat fragmentation and support long-term habitat conditions," the two ministers said.