This study commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation examined the economic, ecological and indigenous value proposition for restoration of critical caribou populations in Alberta and northeastern British Columbia. My study showed that if restoration is to be successful, ambitious restoration targets will need to be set in forest management policies. The report is titled the Research related to boreal caribou habitat restoration economics in British Columbia.

Anielski’s analysis shows that restoration of disturbances such as seismic lines, if housed within a range-scale restoration framework, can be a viable economic prospect for northern British Columbia.

According to my report, restoration in fragmented boreal caribou habitat has the potential to create and replace jobs in northern rural municipalities and First Nations. This could pivot many forest-based livelihoods toward repairing overly fragmented caribou ranges. As identified in all three reports, a diversified economy is more stable than one that depends solely on one or two resource extraction activities; a restoration economy has the potential to diversify resource-extraction economies.

Further, ecological restoration also has the potential to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, by repairing opportunities for them to practice their cultures and traditional livelihoods where these have been compromised or abrogated by ecological degradation and destruction.

Moreover, many Indigenous communities believe that “traditional knowledge of boreal ecosystems will help to ensure restoration of industrial lands to a healthy and sustainable boreal forest ecosystem.”

My report highlights flaws with the current economic models that oversee resource management decisions. As recent news about the billion-dollar price tag for orphaned well cleanup in the province reveals, B.C. has failed to ensure that companies pay sufficiently up front for restoration costs incurred through their practices. If the costs for restoration obligations and offsetting funds to pay for restoration were required on both government and industry balance sheets, the current issue of who should pay for restoration would not be in play. In the absence of such a system, costs for restoration are ultimately passed on to the public and future generations.

Ultimately, restoration initiatives will need to be funded by both industry and government, both of which have made billions of dollars from resource extraction in caribou habitat.

I acknowledge that, for boreal caribou to survive in B.C., there will have to be deferrals on further incursions into their undisturbed habitat; management policies pertaining to boreal forest restoration will have to be accompanied by commitments to preclude future habitat disturbances unless sufficient levels of suitable habitat are maintained.

I found that the existing industrial footprint in boreal caribou ranges in B.C. is sufficiently large to support ongoing industrial activities. I also calculated substantial employment benefits from large-scale restoration of seismic lines within caribou habitat:

There are potentially real and significant benefits from restoration of at least the seismic linear disturbance that compare even more favourably to the current forestry and logging employment in B.C. on a per hectare of land use basis…. [E]mployment benefit estimates of caribou habitat restoration, when compared to current forestry sector employment for BC, suggest that the potential benefits of restoration might outweigh the opportunity costs to these traditional resource industries over at least a 20-year restoration period.

My conclusions were, “Estimates of the potential scale and scope of a restoration economy, properly financed…will ultimately result in new employment, better economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples, improved environmental conditions (i.e., reduced environmental liabilities) and overall improvement in economic resilience for both Indigenous and other communities in northeastern B.C.”

My conclusions are consistent with the Powers report for Alberta caribou habitat restoration, which determined, “Managing lands for caribou recovery can grow the economy in the Bistcho-Yates caribou range lands of northwest Alberta.”

My report also touches on the quality of restoration initiatives in the province. He notes that industrial-led reclamation efforts focus primarily on quantitative, not qualitative (i.e., ecosystem interdependence, connectivity, trophic cascading, etc.) indicators of success. In contrast, the report profiles Indigenous-led restoration initiatives that are adopting restoration of traditionally known plants that uphold regional patterns of biodiversity. Traditional ecological knowledge can also be used to identify priority areas for habitat restoration.

Take-away messages

  • As important as restoration is, it’s vital to maintain current intact habitat in caribou ranges.
  • Range-scale restoration of legacy industrial disturbance is critical.
  • Funds should be posted by industry and government to cover their respective restoration obligations.
  • Investments should be made in Indigenous-led restoration initiatives, as these have the potential to advance reconciliation.