West Moberly First Nations

May 25, 2011 19:24 ET

West Moberly First Nations Win Appeal to Protect Endangered Caribou Herd

MOBERLY LAKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - May 25, 2011) - The British Columbia Court of Appeal issued reasons for judgment today in a precedent setting victory by West Moberly First Nations to protect endangered caribou in north-eastern British Columbia.

At dispute was whether BC had meaningfully consulted and accommodated West Moberly by approving coal mining exploration proposed by First Coal Corporation. The coal exploration activities would destroy critical winter habitat for the endangered Burnt Pine caribou herd. Both West Moberly and provincial biologists have been trying for years to recover declining caribou herds in the north-east. Notwithstanding their efforts, the Ministry of Energy and Mines approved the coal exploration permits in the fall of 2009.

West Moberly sought judicial review of BC's decision. In the spring of 2010, the lower court held that West Moberly's Treaty right to hunt necessarily included specific protection for caribou, given that caribou are a species of central significance to West Moberly's traditional way of life.

BC appealed that decision. Today, a majority of the BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, upholding the decision of the court below.

"Caribou have been a big part of our culture and diet for countless generations. Our traditional hunting practices are our heritage. This judgment supports our efforts to protect this heritage for future generations," said West Moberly's Chief Roland Willson.

"The court has sent a clear message that BC must take proactive steps to protect the integrity of our Treaty rights. Now that the court has affirmed the government's duty, we look forward to working cooperatively in the coming weeks and months to do what it takes to save this species from extinction," said Chief Willson.

West Moberly is represented by Christopher Devlin and Timothy Thielmann, of the Victoria-based law firm, Devlin Gailus.

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