District fires back at COS restructuring

Letter to Ministry says Conservation Officers are now "most endangered species on North Vancouver Island"

The District have responded with some venom to the news of a centralization of Conservation Officers.

As was reported in last week’s Gazette, the COS have restructured their staff distribution on the North Island. One position in Port McNeill has been moved to Black Creek leaving a single officer north of Campbell River.

Acting Inspector Ben York sent a letter to councils on the North Island explaining the rationale behind the move but the District have responded with a scathing letter to the Hon. Terry Lake, Minister of the Environment, making their position unambiguously clear.

York had explained that the COS uses a zoning system, with the area north of Fanny Bay considered a single zone. This zone has five field officers assigned to the area with the new distribution seeing one officer operating out of Port McNeill with the remaining four stationed in Black Creek.

York explained that this decision was based on “the safety and well being of our officers” and the move to centralize was taken in conjunction with a review of the location and type of calls that the service received.

The District’s letter slated the decision on all levels, saying that it will “undermine the capacity of rural British Columbians to live safely.”

The letter roundly criticized the policy of centralization as a whole, arguing that the concept is abused whenever managers come under pressure to cut costs. Rural communities bear the brunt of these cost-cutting measures, they argue, with reduced services and the forced urban migration of rural public-service workers.

The District see the decision as symptomatic of a disparate view of the North Island. They point to the fact that the bulk of the officers responsible for the North Island will now reside in the geographic south as evidence.

They voice their frustration at the “spatial dysfunction” of consolidating public service workers, who are hired to serve the North Island but are stationed in the Comox Valley, and argue that rural northern communities are the ones that suffer the most from this “self before service” policy.

The letter questions the rationale and the assurances given by York. The District point out that, given the lower population density and higher familiarity with wildlife, the fewer number of calls from North Island residents does not translate to lower incidences of human/wildlife interaction.

In fact, they argue, since the North Island has the highest density of cougars in North America, a healthy black bear population and high levels of hunting and fishing, the assignment of so large an area to one individual risks turning the area into “an unregulated wild west.”

The claim that the safety and well-being of officers was taken into was also called into question, with the District wondering how the safety of the officer in Port McNeill was enhanced by having no colleagues within 250 km when basic rural safety protocol dictates traveling in pairs. The local partners like the RCMP, they argued, cannot always be available to assist, and they insist that a serious incident stemming from a lone operator is all but inevitable.

In closing, the District advise North Island residents to call the wildlife hotline if they spot a Conservation Officer, now the most endangered species on north Vancouver Island.

View the letter in it’s entirety here.