The Western Painted Turtle pictured during an ongoing study near Revelstoke. What will be the impact of BC Hydro's move to pink-slip many of West Kootenay biologists?

The Western Painted Turtle pictured during an ongoing study near Revelstoke. What will be the impact of BC Hydro's move to pink-slip many of West Kootenay biologists?

Disappointment reigns after cuts to BC Hydro environment workers

Local groups say cuts to the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and other BC Hydro biologists will have negative impacts.

Environmental groups are expressing disappointment with the recent cuts to BC Hydro’s environmental department.

“The NCES [North Columbia Environmental Society] is really disappointed with the cuts to BC Hydro and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program,” said Sarah Newton, a director and past-president of the society. “We’re uncertain how the one person remaining will cover the jobs of several people.”

She was responding to the recent cuts of 36 environmental staff by the provincial power corporations, including one biologist in Revelstoke and the entire staff of the FWCP office in Nelson, which also runs programs in the Revelstoke area.

The cuts are part of the more than 300 layoffs performed by BC Hydro this month, a result of the government review conducted earlier this year.

Chris O’Riley, BC Hydro’s executive vice-president for generation, said the money spent on staff will instead be directed at projects run by local community groups.

“We are looking everywhere we can to be more efficient and to do more with less,” he told the Times Review last week. “We believe there are opportunities in the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program for efficiencies in terms of how we deliver the program and these cuts to staff in Nelson are all about that.”

According to BC Hydro’s website, FWCP spends $3.2 million annually on fish and wildlife projects in the Columbia River basin. These include lake restoration, habitat restoration and species monitoring.

“I think we’ll see more money going into the environment as a result of this particular change,” he said.

He did not provide specifics on how the programs would be run but did say a manager would remain in Castlegar, B.C.

However, Newton questioned how community groups would be able to cover the expertise of the laid off staff. “They’re letting go educated specialists and handing it down to unqualified people,” she said. “BC Hydro has a reputation of good environmental standards and we’re disappointed to not see that continue.”

Newton’s criticisms were echoed by other environmental groups. Hans Dummerauf, Chair of the Arrow Lakes Environmental Stewardship Society (ALESS) said, “It’s a shame the environment is put on the back burner.”

“For a giant like BC Hydro [to cut back local jobs], it’s not promising for the future,” he said.

The changes are modelled on the Coastal FWCP, which operates by providing funding to environmental and other community groups, said O’Riley.

He said BC Hydro would work with community groups, the Ministry of the Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to run the programs.

It is also unclear how cuts to BC Hydro’s environmental staff will impact its work in that area, such as the ongoing studies relating to the Columbia Water Use Plan. Most of those studies are being done by contractors but O’Riley said BC Hydro would be “more efficient about how we manage those contractors.”

“We’re really just trying to do more with less, as many organizations are doing,” he added.

While the NCES could benefit from increased funding, Newton said the organization was worried about who would be looking at the overall picture as to what’s happening in the Columbia River basin.

“It’s not going to be a concerted effort going on and that’s what has us worried,” she said.

With files from Claire Paradis/Arrow Lakes News