Conservation Officers: an endangered species

The District's letter to the Minister of the Environment

Hon. Terry Lake

Minister of the Environment

PO Box 9047 Stn Prov Govt

Rm 247, Parliament Buildings

Victoria BC

V8W9E2

Dear Minister,

Cuts to the Conservation Officer Service (Mount Waddington region)

The Regional District of Mount Waddington (Vancouver Island North) is in receipt of a letter dated June 20th 2012 (File: 31025-01) from Acting Inspector Ben York, West Coast Region, of the Conservation Officer Service. Within that letter, he outlines the service’s grand plan to transfer one of our region’s two Conservation Officer positions to the southern Vancouver Island community of Black Creek. As you are likely aware, our region of 11,500 residents has the greatest cougar population density in all of North America and the healthiest black bear population on the island. The Regional District Board is alarmed that it is now the job of a lone Conservation Officer to respond to calls in a territory of 20,720 square kilometres, four municipalities and numerous unincorporated and First Nation communities. I frankly put it to you that senior managers in the provincial Public Service are taking staff centralisation to breathtaking levels of spatial dysfunction that undermine the capacity of rural British Columbians to live safely and have any confidence in their government’s ability to provide first world services.

The communities of the Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW) are well aware of what typically happens when Executive Directors, ADMs and DMs are under pressure to cut areas of the government’s operations to reduce costs and placate employees who want to retain their remote area jobs without living there:

1) Rural and rural-remote operations are sacrificed to protect expansionist central administrative units in Victoria and other centres under the guise of “restructuring”, “modernisation”, “consolidation” or all three together.

2) Rural and rural-remote offices of various departments are wound down by attrition over a number of years to lessen the blow and community outrage when the final axe falls.

3) “Temporary” staff reassignments and accommodations to larger centres are made permanent and the positions in the rural areas are not re-filled.

4) Public Service job opportunities become progressively less accessible to rural Canadians, encouraging urban migration for professional advancement. Professional working families have to leave and recruitment of this demographic to rural areas is rendered progressively more difficult.

5) Rural professional and service businesses that typically work for the government are encouraged/ forced to locate to larger centres.

6) Rural stakeholders must travel to urban centres to discuss their own local affairs with even junior level management who have little understanding of local context because they are never there.

The Black Creek area must be one of the most bizarre spatial concentrations of Ministry of Environment staff in British Columbia. The idea that an administrative zone based within Comox Valley Regional District can be called “North Island” when Campbell River is the geographic centre of Vancouver Island is a fraudulent concept that has been misused for years, allowing our communities to be bled dry of public servants and institutions who think their personnel’s residential preferences should control where jobs and operational activities are based out of. Self is being put before service, to play on a popular Rotarian concept, with the full acquiescence of senior management.

A number of questions we additionally ask of the Conservation Officer Service include:

1) How “quick” will a Provincial Quick Response Team be when Black Creek is 250km from Port Hardy?

2) Is the Conservation Officer Service aware that fewer calls in the Mount Waddington region is reflective only of lower population density and greater socialized familiarity with wildlife, particularly bears? Therefore, what bearing do fewer calls received have on recommended local officer deployment levels? Fewer calls cannot be rationalized to mean fewer bears or cougars in the rural community interface.

3) The idea that the safety and wellbeing of officers was considered is questionable in the extreme. How exactly is a single deployed officer in our region safer than he or she is with one or more trained colleagues within an hour of their location? For example, how can a lone officer “quickly” set a trap for a problem bear or “safely” protect themselves and the public? The safety rule of thumb for any kind of critical response in rural areas is that officers travel in twos – it is just a matter of time before a serious incident will occur either as a consequence of a lone officer response or safety rules making a quick lone officer response impossible. The RCMP cannot always be on hand.

4) With our well known levels of hunting and freshwater fishing on the North Island, is the service not risking turning the Mount Waddington region into an unregulated “wild west” by this move? Is this how the Province of British Columbia values the finest fish and wildlife resources on Vancouver Island?

The Regional District of Mount Waddington looks forward to a response. In the meantime, it will encourage residents to call 1-800-663-WILD if they spot a Conservation Officer, surely the most endangered species on northern Vancouver Island.

Yours sincerely,

Al Huddlestan

Chair

 

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