A moratorium on new industrial activities will be imposed in B.C’s Peace River region as government says it intends to sign the Southern Mountain Caribou Bilateral Conservation Agreement.

The areas are in the vicinity of Mackenzie, Tumbler Ridge, and Chetwynd and will be in place until June 20, 2021, or until it is repealed.

Premier John Horgan said Blair Lekstrom has recommended that they press the pause button on new resource development and take more time to engage with affected communities and industries.

“Acting on this recommendation on Blair immediately I believe that gives a genuine sense of purpose to the species at risk legislation that the federal government is using to direct our attention to the caribou issue,” he said.

“It also provides certainty to those that sat down and worked on the partnership agreement that we’re serious about it, and it also says to industrial users, workers, and families that we are prepared to do whatever we can to protect the mountain caribou. Now in doing that we have to be mindful of the impacts on people and that’s where Blair’s recommendations come in.”

Blair Lekstrom was appointed by Horgan in April 2019 as a community liaison to engage with residents of the Peace region on a draft Partnership Agreement between BC, Canada, West Moberly First Nation, and Saulteau First Nation.

His report on caribou recovery makes 14 recommendations, including calling for the interim moratorium.

“There’s much more work to do,” Horgan said.

“I’ve asked Blair to stay as my community liaison and we’ll continue to have dialogue with elected representatives in the region as well as the various stakeholders so that we can have a way forward that will protect the caribou habitat, will protect the caribou, and expand their populations as well as ensure that we work with federal government on any mitigation measures that may be needed as we implement that partnership agreement going forward.”

The South Peace region’s six southern mountain caribou herds are believed to have declined from about 800 animals in the early 2000s to 220 animals today.

The interim moratorium has received criticism by both MLA for Peace River South, Mike Bernier, and BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.

“While I acknowledge the work by former BC Liberal Blair Lekstrom to try and get Horgan and his inept minister back on track, it’s frankly outrageous to hear the Premier suggest he is only now learning about the challenges of this issue,” Bernier said in a news release.

“BC Liberal MLAs, who actually live in rural B.C., have been sounding the alarm bells for over a year. A two-year moratorium on new resource development in B.C. communities that rely on it to support their families is a direct threat to the people of the region and the province.”