Belt tightens on conservation officers' duties
NDP says answering service to field long-weekend bear-in-yard calls
By Kent Spencer, Canwest News ServiceApril 13, 2009Be
B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner.Photograph by: File photo by Sam Leung, Canwest News ServiceCity residents with bears in their yards will get nothing more than an answering service from conservation officers on long weekends, claims the NDP.
MLA Shane Simpson, the party's environmental critic, says a leaked memo shows Liberal cutbacks to the conservation service will affect the public.
"There is concern that front-line officers may not be able to do their jobs," Simpson said.
"It put lies to Gordon Campbell's claims that he is standing up for the environment."
Officers do everything from removing problem bears to enforcing hunting regulations and monitoring environmental spills.
The internal memo, from acting-chief conservation officer Lance Sundquist, states the department is about $500,000 "short" of its needs.
"Work plans are being reviewed to determine what activities will either be eliminated or reduced to meet this budget pressure," he wrote on April 3. The memo's addressee has been deleted.
Sundquist said activities that have been cancelled include:
- Investigations likely to have a low impact on human health, safety and the environment.
- Compliance-verification activities where travel or fuel costs are incurred. (Officers are advised to travel with the RCMP or other government agencies, if possible.)
- Out-of-province travel where costs are incurred.
Sundquist advised officers to double up to save fuel costs on their departmental trucks, or figure out ways to travel using "alternative arrangements."
"As you can see, our field-service delivery will be greatly curtailed this year," he said.
Environment Minister Barry Penner admitted the department is doing some "belt-tightening" but said front-line service, including bear calls, will not be affected.
"There's an economic downturn. Just like families, the government has to tighten its belt. We can't do everything we want to do," he said.
"It would be reckless and irresponsible to keep spending like the way the NDP would do. We are maintaining staffing levels for front-line workers," he said.
B.C. has 46 conservation officers and a new office in Golden.
Penner said additional funds could yet be found in the budget.
"This memo was a final notice from management that more money was needed," he said.
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