As reported in an earlier article the government of British Columbia has again cut back the budget of the Fish and Wildlife Branch of the MOE (Ministry of Environment). This is a trend that unfortunately has become an annual ritual over the past several years while at the same time increasing the workload and duties of our Conservation Officers. The budget cutbacks are not about the lack of funding generated by hunters and fishers, which exceed the 400 million dollar mark, which would be more then enough money to finance the expenses of the Fish and Wildlife Branch. The cut backs are more about paying for an ever-expanding government bureaucracy and the multi-million boondoggle of the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.
Unfortunately, unlike America, British Columbia does not have a law like the Pittman-Robertson Act that would guarantee that hunter and angler generated money flows back to the Wildlife department. Instead the millions from hunting and fishing flow into the general province budget to be used in any which way the government sees fit.
Letters from outraged hunters, fishers and organizations to the government, complaining about the budget cuts to the Fish and Wildlife Branch that leaves our Conservation Officers basically without enough funding to operate - There isn't even enough money to fuel up the CO service vehicles - remained largely unanswered. In the rare occasions where replies were sent they consisted of the usual political excuses why cutbacks to the Fish and Wildlife Branch were necessary. Well, if the government does not listen to reason and commonsense they can maybe be shamed into listening. With that in mind a few members of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, spearheaded by well known and respected Canadian outdoor personality Bill Otway, got together and initiated a “Poor Box” initiative.
On June the 4th. Bill Otway, my wife and I visited the local sporting goods stores to set up donation boxes to collect money for the local Conservation Officers, so they at least can buy gas for their service vehicles. Of course we didn’t just go to the stores and set up “Poor Boxes” quietly. We invited the newspapers and the local television. They all attended the event and will report to the community about why we now have to help finance the Conservation Officers so they can continue to do their important work as the first line of defense against poaching and environmental pollution.
This “Poor Box” action initiated by the Nicola Valley Fish & Game Club has generated interest of other Fish and Game Clubs in British Columbia and soon it will catch on all over the province and generate a lot of public interest and that might be all that is needed to make the government rethink their short sighted budget cuts. Or as one store owner and former Conservation Officer put it eloquently. “With the recent budget cuts the government has cut the legs off of the guard dog.”
I leave you here with the official press release that we handed out.
Press Release –For immediate release
June 4, 2009
The members of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club are taking the action of setting up donation “Poor Boxes” in our local sporting goods stores today in recognition of the cutbacks our provincial government has made to the budget of the Fish and Wildlife Branch of the MOE.
Despite the fact that the licence fees paid by hunters, anglers and trappers in this province provide more than adequate funds to support fish and wildlife management and protection, funds for these purposes have been cut to the bone.
We find staff cut to below even minimum requirement levels. There is no money to carry out any real management programs including an almost total elimination of inventory of both fish and wildlife stocks.
We have been advised by the Acting Chief Conservation Officer that due to budget constraints Conservation Officers (C.O.s), are no longer allowed to have their government vehicles at home to allow quick response to emergency after hours calls. To add insult to injury we are also advised that C. O.s can only respond to after hour’s calls for incidents that are threats to human health or safety. So after hour’s pollution, poaching etc. will now go unchallenged. In short, the basic reason for the Conservation Officer Service being in existence is no longer on the charts.
The Conservation Officer is the first line of defence in the continuing efforts to maintain and enhance our fish and wildlife heritage. When you take away the first line of defence, you in fact erode the base and have begun the slide into oblivion for this heritage. This is why we have chosen to focus our efforts today on the plight of our Conservation Officer Service. Their plight is a clear indication of the current endemic problems that exist throughout the Fish and Wildlife Branch.
We have spoken with many of our sister clubs throughout the province and find that they are seeing the same problems with reduced enforcement and management as we are. They are supportive of our efforts and many are going to embark on a similar program in their own areas.
We, of course cannot provide funding to pay for the needed overtime and other costs of the Conservation Officers, but we felt that we and the community could contribute to the gas bill of the service. This we feel at the very least should free up some funds for government to be able to provide at least some after hours service. Moreover in many areas we are finding that in fact the current budget does not even provide for an adequate gasoline allowance to do adequate patrols in normal working hours.
We want to make it very clear that it is our experience that the staff in the Conservation Service are totally dedicated to their jobs and are committed to doing all they can to ensure we leave the best possible fish and wildlife heritage for future generations. We in the Nicola Valley Fishing and Game Club intend to do our part to aid these dedicated individuals to achieve their and our goals.
Bill Otway, Communications Chair
Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club
Image courtesy of Bill Otway
Othmar Vohringer Outdoors
Founding Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit