When you work as a conservation officer, taking on the role of the grim reaper comes with the territory.
“The job is interesting and rewarding at times, but it’s definitely not for everyone,” said Peter Pauwels, who retired at the end of June after 30 years with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service based out of Greater Victoria.
“We have to do many unpleasant things in this job. The amount of animals I’ve had to kill is staggering. It’s never easy, and it takes a toll. For better or worse in some ways, we’re society’s killing tool.”
One of the challenges Pauwels had to deal with that’s increased dramatically in years is the number of people who take to social media to spread misinformation.
“What’s particularly disturbing is the number of people who think conservation officers enjoy killing animals,” he said.
Pauwels said people are entitled to their opinion, but it’s a “despicable thing to say.”
He added in his 30 years on the job. He’s never met a conservation officer who enjoyed that part of the job.
“When we kill animals, there’s a valid reason for that. I used to do a lot of media, print, television and radio, but I stopped a couple of years ago because of all the negativity,” he said
“Conservation officers who remain on the job are hardworking, dedicated professionals who should be treated respectfully because they have a difficult job to do.”
Pauwels said he would like to see more officers hired when asked what improvements he would recommend moving forward.
“There are many places in the province that are short-handed, and officers are getting burnt out,” he said.”We’re simply responsible for too many things. The mandate as COs has become so broad that it’s increasingly challenging to meet the public’s expectations without more officers.”
Wild Wise Sooke community coordinator Sam Webb said Pauwels has been instrumental in assisting the organization with its work. Wild Wise is devoted to educating people about co-existing with wildlife and has expanded from East Sooke to include Metchosin, Shirley, and Otter Point.
“I love Peter and greatly respect his work,” Webb said. “Wild Wise wouldn’t be anything without Peter, and we’re sad to see him go. Our foundation owes so much to him. His focus has always been on education; we’re grateful for his support. The work conservation officers do invaluable in protecting people and wildlife.”
Dana Livingstone, the founder of the volunteer group Wildlife Advocates Collective in East Sooke, was effusive in her praise for Pauwels as well.
“I’ve always admired the passion, dedication and compassion he brings to his work,” she said. “Peter cares about every call he’s taken and has saved so much wildlife, big and small. We need more COs like Peter in the field, and he will be missed.”
Livingstone has witnessed many examples of how Pauwels was always willing to do whatever he could to help injured wildlife.
She recalled an incident in Victoria’s Rockland area where a large buck had a rat trap fastened to his tongue. Pauwels tracked down the deer, tranquillized it, removed the trap and released the animal. Livingstone was also moved by the amount of time Pauwels devoted on another occasion to try to find an injured doe.
“It shows Peter’s dedication and willingness to go the extra mile,” she said.
Pauwels is currently a consultant in the field, monitoring wildlife safety in northern B.C.
“I’m not ready for the golf course yet. I’m exploring many opportunities related to wildlife and enforcement.”
• For more on Wild Wise, go to www.wildwisesociety.org.
• For more on Wildlife Advocates Collective, go to its Facebook page.