Public safety pushes demand for more conservation staff

North Okanagan politicians are demanding more resources be invested in the environment.

North Okanagan politicians are demanding more resources be invested in the environment.

The Regional District of the North Okanagan is writing the provincial government to insist that more conservation officers be hired.

“There is increased demand from the public for stewardship,” said director Jackie Pearase.

Presently, there are five field officers and one sergeant in Vernon and Kelowna, with two based out of Vernon.

In 2012/13, the Vernon office dealt with 1,670 cases of problem wildlife, 561 enforcement cases (illegal hunting), 119 charges and 196 warnings.

“Human safety, public health is always the priority,” said Barb Leslie, a conservation officer inspector with the Ministry of Environment, in a presentation to RDNO.

However, based on staffing levels, Leslie admits there are challenges.

“We can’t take on more without the resources but we are looking at efficiencies.”

Staff is moved around the Interior based on where they are needed most and relationships with other agencies are being formed.

As an example, the East Kootenay Regional District pays for one conservation officer.

“We’re looking at partnerships because the government wasn’t cutting (staff), but it wasn’t adding,” said Leslie.

Leslie encouraged RDNO to join the City of Vernon in the Bear Aware program.

“We hope it will deal with some of the wildlife/human conflicts,” she said.

Director Howie Cyr raised concerns once Leslie’s presentation was completed.

“I’m astonished you are so short-handed with officers in the field, especially for their own safety,” he said. “It’s really quite embarrassing.”

Director Mike Macnabb says a lack of enforcement in the woods is a growing problem.

“We have no protection in our watersheds so mudboggers go in there. We are finding illegal dumping all over the place. We need help.”

Leslie insists her department is establishing priorities to try and serve the public better.

“We’d love to do everything because these are the communities we live in,” she said.