Drive across the Columbia River Bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway in Revelstoke and look upstream. If you see someone fishing there, they are breaking the law.
As local fisherman know, the Columbia River is closed to fishing from the bridge to the Revelstoke Dam. Yet, despite the prohibition and plain view from the highway, from time to time, anglers try their luck with the fish and the Conservation Officer Service.
Frustration with perceived lack of enforcement, a bear incident in town in December, and news that the current Revelstoke-based conservation officer position would not be renewed after a December retirement drew a response from the Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club.
Club president Gary Krestinsky wrote a letter saying Revelstoke should have two, not just one conservation officer. Noting ongoing poaching and conservation law violations, he urged the ministry to maintain services.
In response to the letter and questions from the Revelstoke Times Review, B.C. Minister of Environment Mary Polak responded with a letter to the editor, announcing that the Revelstoke conservation officer position is being transferred to Golden.
Polak said the Conservation Officer Service works on a zone system, and that basing two officers in Golden and two in Invermere, “would provide the best level of service to the entire [Columbia Kootenay] zone.
“The review was based on location and types of complaints and calls received through the region, and took into consideration the safety and wellbeing of our officers,” Polak wrote.
Revelstoke Bear Aware coordinator Sue Davies said she is disappointed by the decision, but said the organization would strive to work with the new officers.
“[We’ll have] a big effort to get a good relationship going with the new conservation officers who are servicing our town.”
She likened the conservation officer as the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” in terms of urban bears, emphasizing residents need to continue reporting problem bears so that early intervention can prevent their destruction. She said residents need to continue calling the RAPP line, so that Bear Aware staff and volunteers can canvas the neighbourhood to remove attractants.
In the past, Revelstoke averaged 18 bears being destroyed each year. That number has been cut down to seven in recent years. The key to continued success is removing attractants like garbage and fruit, and continued reporting, Davies said.
North Columbia Environmental Society spokesperson Jody Lownds was also disappointed.
“There’s just a huge lack of enforcement of any kind of environmental regulation,” said the NCES vice-president. The Revelstoke environmental group had written the environment ministry, requesting a conservation officer be maintained here.
“We’re certainly in favour of there actually being a conservation officer in Revelstoke,” she said.
Lownds said the society will meet soon and discuss ways forward, and discuss the broad-reaching effects of the decision on issues like endangered species preservation.
“If the decision has already been made then we’re going to look into other options,” Lownds said. “The NCES was hoping there would be an increased CO role in Revelstoke and we still think there’s a need here.”
Lownds said the decision amounted to continued government downloading of government services onto unfunded volunteer groups like the NCES.
In their December open letter to minister Polak, the Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club asked for increased conservation officer staffing to two in Revelstoke, saying existing enforcement levels were inadequate, especially because the Revelstoke-based officer had supervisory duties elsewhere.
“We are aware of flagrant disregard for hunting regulations, poaching, and trapping infractions that are occurring with minimal success in investigations or convictions,” wrote club President Gary Krestinsky.
“We are aware of flagrant infractions such as: fishing immediately below the Mica Dam, fishing above the Bigmouth River cut-off zone line, fishing in the Columbia above the Trans-Canada Bridge in Revelstoke, as well as other fishing regulation infractions. In canvassing our Rod & Gun Club members and the public, there is no effective presence in the field by COs for deterrence or investigation of incidents on our local lakes or in the forest.”