• woodland caribou

    Mountain caribou are a critically endangered subspecies of woodland caribou. Some herds in the southern Rockies number fewer than 15 animals. (Photo: Iain Reid/Can Geo Photo Club)

An agreement protecting 7,500 square kilometres for B.C. mountain caribou in Treaty 8 traditional territory has been finalized.

West Moberly First Nations, Saulteau First Nations, the province of British Columbia and the federal government signed the historic partnership, which includes a new 2,000 square kilometre Indigenous protected area, last week.

Mountain caribou numbers have dwindled over the years, with just 219 remaining in the south Peace River region as of 2019. The species is at risk of extinction, with 98 per cent of the global population living in B.C. The animals migrate up and down the mountainsides and in the last century have fragmented into a handful of subdivided herds with few interactions between them. 

The 30-year deal comes after years of efforts conducted by the two First Nations in the region to protect the species, including maternity penning and wolf culls. It took two years of discussions for all parties to come to terms. 

“This will help make British Columbia a better place to live for everyone,” says Saulteau Chief Ken Cameron. “It shows that we can find ways to balance the environment and the economy. And it brings increased certainty for Indigenous people, government, and industry.”

Cameron also calls the agreement a “powerful moment in history,” noting that it’s the first of its kind to incorporate multiple layers of government and First Nations. 

The agreement includes funding for habitat restoration, a new guardians program and a caribou recovery committee, staffed by officials from West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, as well as from provincial and federal governments. 

Related:

• Mapping the decline of Canada’s caribou