COLUMN: Province needs to restore Conservation Officer

Last Friday's incident in which a bear was killed after becoming treed downtown highlights the need for a Conservation Officer in Revelstoke

Friday’s incident in which a bear was killed after becoming treed downtown highlights the need for a Conservation Officer in Revelstoke, though it’s only one of many reasons we need one.

Revelstoke has been without a CO since December when Sgt. Adam Christie retired and was not replaced by the Ministry of the Environment.

Two COs had to be called in from Vernon to deal with Friday’s situation in which a bear wound up trapped in a tree on First Street West (see page 1 and 2 for more on the situation).

The bear was first spotted in the tree early in the morning, but it took until 11 a.m. for the COs to make it to Revelstoke. In the meantime, an RCMP officer had to monitor the bear for several hours — a waste of resources.

The responding COs did an excellent job at managing a situation that could have become quite dangerous, with more than 100 people gathered about to look at the bear and watch officials get it out of the tree. They were able to get the bear out of tree while ensuring the safety of the bear and the public.

Sue Davies, the Bear Aware coordinator for Revelstoke, told me the incident illustrates the bear problem in Revelstoke. “We wouldn’t have quite so many bears being habituated to humans and comfortable in town if we didn’t allow them to get into food,” she said.

Still, she noted several issues with the lack of a CO in town. First, there’s the delay in response time since a CO has to come from either Golden or Vernon. Second, the lack of CO here means there’s no help with preventing such incidents.

“If COs were here earlier, they could work with people, work with hazing the animals early on. This situation wouldn’t have to happen,” she said. “When the COs arrive, they’re trained to deal with this, they’re calm. They manage the situation really well in comparison to having people who are not trained in the situation.

“It’s invaluable to have COs here and Bear Aware would certainly support any move towards getting a CO stationed back here in Revelstoke.”

Gary Krestinsky, the president of the Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club said the lack of a CO is causing issues in the bush, with incidents of illegal fishing and hunting going without a response.

“There’s all sorts of violations going on and nobody’s out checking the hunters and fishermen for licenses. Years ago it was done on a regular basis,” he said. “When there’s a presence, people in general will tow the line. Without a presence, people are getting away with a lot more illegal activities.”

As well, Rod & Gun Club members are being called out handle situations a CO would normally deal with. Recently, club members were called on by the Conservation Officer Service to deal with two moose that were shot but not killed by hunters.

“We’re being used as surrogates,” he said. “We don’t mind helping them out but it is their responsibility and they are putting it off on the RCMP and/or the Rod & Gun Club and other agencies.”

The Ministry of the Environment cited the lack of calls from Revelstoke into the RAPP line as the reason for removing the CO here.

“The review for the deployment of officers in the Columbia Kootenay zone found that moving the Conservation Officer position from Revelstoke to Golden would provide the best level of service to the entire zone and enhance the safety and mutual operation of the zone,” wrote Mary Polak, the Minister of the Environment, in a July letter to Krestinsky. “This decision was based on an assessment of public complaints and consideration for the safety and well-being of our officers.”

As a result of this short-sighted decision, officers in Golden and Vernon respond to incidents here, but they are overstretched and can’t respond to most incidents.

“Only in emergencies will they show up from Golden or Vernon,” said Krestinsky.

“Our issue is not with the COs, it’s with the Ministry of the Environment. The COs are overworked and we’d like to emphasize that,” he added. “We would like to emphasize to the public that there is no coverage so the rules are being flagrantly violated and there is a serious risk of human safety when the CO is not immediately available.

“We believe the situation is serious enough that it has to be rectified immediately.”

Revelstoke needs a Conservation Officer. There’s obvious short-term impacts like dealing with problem bears and checking for over-fishing. There’s also a long-term impact that could result from a lack of enforcement of regulations.

The rural Revelstoke area is vast and there are already stresses on wildlife. We don’t need more issues being caused by a lack of enforcement.

 

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