© By Othmar Vohringer
If you live in British Columbia and contact the conservation services because you have bears in your back yard, or trying to break into your home, good luck to you if you get a response.
A secret memo leaked two week ago announces further financial cuts to the Wildlife Service. This is not the first time that budget cuts have been made but rather the last in a series over the last two to three years.
With the latest cutbacks there is serious concern that the Conservation Officers (Game Wardens for my American readers) will no longer be able to do their jobs. While the money has been steadily cut back over the years, the duties of the conservation officers have increased.
At one time the conservation officers were in charge of enforcing the hunting and fishing laws and responding to nuisance wildlife calls. That was a long time ago, now conservation officers are also in charge of enforcing environment pollution laws and a host of other duties pertaining to the environment, hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activates including vehicle/wildlife accidents.
Just how bad the current situation is has become evident when a memo was leaked to the public that among other things recommended. Conservation officers should not answer anymore phone calls from public made to the local office or the CO’s home, thus forcing the caller to call the central hotline from where the call will be assessed and forwarded to the conservation officer. Provided if the dispatcher deems the call urgent or not this could take from several hours to days.
Here is how this is intended to work. In the past if I encountered a wildlife act or environmental violation in progress I could just phone up the local conservation officer and inform him of my observation. The officer could make the decision based on his knowledge of the area and the people living there and if needed act upon my call within minutes.
With the new system I would have to phone the hotline in a faraway city where a bureaucrat will make the decision if the call is urgent or not and then, at his/her discretion, passes the message on to the local conservation officer. In the case of poaching or environment pollution minutes can make all the difference in apprehending an offender. The same is true if a bear creates havoc in my backyard or threatens my family. I want the problem to be dealt with in a timely, speak swift, fashion. I do not want to waist time talking to a bureaucrat somewhere far away that most likely has no clue of the area, or probably doesn’t even know it existed until now.
But it gets worse. In the leaked memo conservation officers are asked to hitch a ride with the RCMP when ever possible (That is police or sheriff for my American readers). Yep you read that right. The conservation service has no money to fuel up the patrol vehicles. In fact the conservation service is 500,000 dollars short of what is needed to maintain a basic service according to acting-chief conservation officer Lance Sundquist. British Columbia is a huge province. About three times the size of California, but only about 10% of California’s population, the rest is semi to total wilderness. Yet there are only 64 conservation officers in this province. That means that these officers have to drive hundreds of miles each day to patrol their territory and respond to calls, but with 500,000 dollars in the hole the vehicles stay in the parking lots with empty gas tanks.
Shan Simpson, NDP, said that with the latest cutbacks front-line officers would no longer be able to do their jobs. No kidding. Some of the conservation officers were so disgusted with this latest cutbacks that they left the service because they felt that they could not continue to uphold their oath any longer under the current conditions. The remaining officers struggle on as best as they can and a few, so I heard, even pay out of their own pocket to maintain some mobility. Imagine that! Pay so you can work!
All this comes on the back of BC Premier Gordon Campell’s, time and again, voiced commitment to environment, hunting and fishing. Looking at the facts this commitment seems nothing more than cheap lip service. As I said before this is not the first time the conservation service budget was cut back. In that same timeframe the government awarded itself, not once but twice, with a salary increase amounting to more that a 130% increase plus many other financial incentives and benefits. I am not even going into the millions that have been squandered or got “lost” in the 2010 Winter Olympics fiasco.
If we have to make cutbacks on the budget because of the economic situation, according to Gordon Campell, may I suggest to start on the over the top salaries and benefits of our government officials. I am sure with that alone a million or so could be saved. Clapping down on the 2010 Winter Olympics money squandering, fraud and corruption surely would save a few millions too. All that saved money could then be given to the conservation service, education department and health care department where the money is badly needed to keep up with the publics demand and needs.