Critics cry foul over wildlife division cuts - Retired manager worries about a vendetta from senior politicians

James
James McLeod
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Environment Minister Tom Hedderson

Members of the wildlife community are sounding the alarm about budget cuts which could threaten programs and weaken government environmental research.

What’s more, one former longtime manager in the wildlife division of the Department of Environment and Conservation told The Telegram that people in the department worry that senior elected officials are deliberately trying to weaken environmental protection.

“When you look at the senior people in government now, the premier used to be the minister of natural resources. Jerome Kennedy used to be the minister of natural resources,” said Joe Brazil, who worked in the wildlife division for decades. “I think the division has, in the past, been an irritant for some of these ministers.”

Another source, who works closely with the division and spoke to The Telegram on the condition of anonymity out of concern for their job, said there’s a feeling that “there’s a bullseye on wildlife.”

 

It’s tough to determine whether the Wildlife Division is being targeted specifically, based on the numbers provided by government.

But according to information provided on budget day, 18 vacant positions were eliminated in the Department of Environment and Conservation, and another 42 people were laid off, for a total of 60 positions out of a department with 324 employees — or roughly 18 per cent of the workforce.

By comparison, in the Department of Natural Resources, four vacant positions were eliminated, and 17 people were laid off out of a much larger department of 564 employees — or roughly three per cent of the workforce.

There’s a natural push and pull between the development-oriented Natural Resources department and the wildlife division which is focused on environmental concerns.

Environment Minister Tom Hedderson said that 20 people lost their jobs in the wildlife division — equivalent to the entire Department of Natural Resources.

But Hedderson said he’s still convinced that the department can do its job when it comes to environmental assessments and wildlife management.

“I have a responsibility to make sure that I haven’t cut down below what I need in order to carry out the responsibilities that have been put on me, and that’s the balance,” he said. “I’m confident that I have.”

Hedderson said some of the cuts relate to the ending of a five-year, $15.3-million caribou study that’s coming to a conclusion.

“Basically we had people who were hired doing work specifically with regard to that particular strategy,” he said. “That project has pretty well come to conclusion now.”

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball wouldn’t speculate on why the government is making the cuts in the wildlife division.

“Regardless of what is motivating people to make this decision, this is not a smart decision. You’re attacking a department here that is tasked with the job of putting in measures that impact the environment and manage our wildlife,” he said.

New Democrat MHA George Murphy has been extremely vocal about oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on the west coast, and he said he’s concerned about the effect of weakening the wildlife division.

“It just doesn’t seem to be very funny in this day and age, when they’re talking about massive development over on the west coast, the hunt for oil, that all of these people would be cut back,” he said. “It’s a bit sick.”

Murphy pointed out that it’s important for the government to maintain the environment for the sake of hunting, and the province’s tourism industry.

Brazil, meanwhile, said that some programs have already effectively been gutted, such as the biodiversity program.

“That was a massive program within the division; it managed and supplied a lot of the information feeding into other programs, because it was gathering information on tens of thousands of species and co-ordinating those effort,” Brazil said. “You just hope that people aren’t taking advantage of these sets of circumstances to eliminate certain voices that have been a nuisance.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

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Recent comments

  • vrp
    March 31, 2013 - 16:55

    The day wildlife officers strapped on their guns and started strutting around malls and grocery stores armed to the teeth, they became laughingstocks. Plummeting credibility made it easy for government to slash them. Many were seen as bungling, over-the-top bullies and law abiding citizens are happy to see them go.

  • real taxpay
    March 31, 2013 - 11:12

    Unreal ! Our wildlife resources @ risk. This government had 90 million put aside for corporate friends and cut services like wildlife and public protection and that is unacceptable.

  • Elim
    March 31, 2013 - 05:36

    After all is said and done, nobody can bullshit their way thru this any more than Hedderson. He'd talk his way out of a paper bag.

  • EDfromRED
    March 30, 2013 - 23:00

    I truly believe if a random selection was made out of the phone book for MHA's, they would do a much better job than this bunch of pitiful PC nincompoops we have now. Who needs vikings when we have elected officials raping and pillaging us?

  • grassy knoll
    March 30, 2013 - 20:52

    What BS. Departments were told to cut spending. DNR took a bigger budget hit than DEC. DEC decided to give up salaries while DNR gave up spending in other areas. Perhaps you should be asking why did DEC take the cuts out of wildlife and left crown lands and parks rather untouched. And does anyone actually believe an irritant from a junior portfolio would stop the province from pursuing economic develop? Not likely.

  • A BUSINESS MAN TOO
    March 30, 2013 - 19:39

    A strong voice at the Cabinet Table would not have allowed cuts to wildlife protection! Long after oil & minerals are gone, we'll have wildlife ( hopefully ) to help create wealth through Tourism! Let's hope this Government can get a little smarter!

  • Don II
    March 30, 2013 - 19:11

    I agree with Joe Brazil that certain senior Ministers exert undue interference over the workings of Government departments. It appears that the Town of Cupids unlawfully occupied all of the Crown land at Pointe Beach in Cupids, used tax payers money to build and permit the operation of an unapproved and unauthorized commercial marina at the public beach and salt water pond from 2010 to 2012. Despite complaints sent to the Government of Newfoundland from citizens in Cupids, Minister Tom Hedderson's department of Environment and Conservation which is responsible for Crown Land administration and enforcement of the Lands Act did not issue a stop, cease and vacate order against the Town of Cupids until a complaint was investigated by the office of the Provincial Representative. The Town of Cupids was eventually ordered to cease operation of the unauthorized marina and ordered to vacate the Crown land at Pointe Beach in Cupids. However, despite the fact that the Town of Cupids unlawfully occupied Crown land and allowed the operation of an unauthorized commercial marina at the beach site for over two years, the department of Environment and Conservation did not prosecute the Town of Cupids for violation of the Lands Act. It appears that Minister Hedderson is also the member of the House of Assembly for the district in which the town of Cupids is located. It appears that there are two laws in Newfoundland and Labrador, one law which will be enforced against the ordinary citizens and a second law which will not be enforced against Minister Hedderson's friends on the Cupids Town Council!

  • Silly Wildlife Lover
    March 30, 2013 - 18:26

    Paul, I mean Business Man, it's exactly that kind of ignorant, short sighted attitude that will be the death of this province. Where do you think tax dollars come from to pay for Health Care and Education? It comes from people with jobs. And the last time I looked there were an awful lot of those based in the tourism industry. It's not about sacrificing one thing for another. It's about balance. Protecting your assets and using them to the benefit of all. We have natural assets in this province no other province has. A smart government would protect them and use them to their advantage.

  • Jean Knowles
    March 30, 2013 - 16:36

    The cuts that have taken place within this department are staggering; as other posters have mentioned, they did not take place amongst junior staff but among seasoned managerial workers who are now faced with the unfortunate choice of seeking work outside the province or bumping younger personnel, often with families. There simply isn't sufficient employment in the private sector here in Newfoundland and Labrador for people with their knowledge and skill sets, so going down the road is in many cases their only option. This sweeping series of cuts are depriving Newfoundland and Labrador of its best and brightest; graduates in these same fields of study now have no prospects of employment here so we have been training wildlife technicians for export. If no value is placed on the environment, then the exploitation of natural resources through methods harmful to the land and the environment are more than just a distant possibility, they are a very real option for uncaring and irresponsible developers who are even now poised to take action. We must reverse these cuts, and we must do so as soon as possible.

  • a business man
    March 30, 2013 - 14:43

    Would the wildlife community rather see cuts in health care or education? I don't know and I don't care. As far as I am concerned, the cuts are not deep enough.

    • Jean Knowles
      March 30, 2013 - 16:28

      No, frankly we'd rather see a government that was managed in such a way that such cuts would not be necessary. We certainly do not want cuts in health care or education, nor do we believe the implication that it's either/or. I'd prefer to see an increase in corporate taxes, so that the rich are paying their way instead of achieving success on the backs of the working poor.

    • november mike
      March 31, 2013 - 20:16

      The wildlife department has been poorly managed for years not because of insufficient manpower but as a result of incompetance and lack of direction by senior management. All species of wildlife in this province that feed on vegitation will be literally wiped out in 10 years and why, because of the lax and do nothing attitude about the coyote problem on this island. So why would 't there be a reduction in staff to look after a reduction in wildlife that these very people were responsible for in the first place.. Thank you Mr. Kennedy Its about time there was a shakeup in this department

  • Lena Warden
    March 30, 2013 - 14:21

    Nearly twenty percent of dedicated, highly-trained workers within the department laid off, and no on-site managers for our most important Ecological Reserves, with all administration being handled from Deer Lake? It's not the junior employees, the most recently hired, that are being ousted, it's senior managers with years of service. Outrageous. Almost as outrageous as the fact that employees have been muzzled for years, and threatened with firing if they spoke of their concerns about oil production and transport taking place so close to crucial seabird nesting areas. Yes, this department is under siege, and I'm convinced that it's because the present government is determined to erode the effectiveness of environmental controls. They're taking a leaf out of Stephen Harper's book and wreaking havoc on environmental law and enforcement. The province sells itself as close to nature, unspoiled, and pristine, yet this government seems determined to lay waste to the very aspect we're working to sell. Then again, we're not working as hard to sell them anymore, are we? The budget to produce those beautiful ads boasting of our precious natural wonders has been cut by 30%. What's next -- fracking in Gros Morne? Strip mining in Mount Pearl? I despair for this province's wild places; they are being set up to be pillaged, and I suspect we won't have to wait long before we'll see the pillage begin.

  • PuffinPatroller
    March 30, 2013 - 13:13

    The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve continues to face new threats each year from an increase in predatory birds destroying nests and eating young and eggs, as well as negative effects from artificial lighting from development in the area. Dr. Bill Montevecchi has expressed grave concern for the very future of the reserve. This reserve had a dedicated manager who worked with local residents and tour operators to closely monitor the reserve, collected scientific data, and ensure all activity around the reserve promoted its protection and survival. No more. She was given the heave ho and now the reserve will be managed from Deer Lake. This is a devastating move that will have serious implications for the largest colony of North Atlantic Puffins in North America as well as the largest colony of Leaches Storm Petrels. And Tom Hedderson says his dept. can still carry out their responsibilities? A despicable lie.

  • PuffinPatroller
    March 30, 2013 - 13:08

    The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve continues to face new threats each year from an increase in predatory birds destroying nests and eating young and eggs, as well as negative effects from artificial lighting from development in the area. Dr. Bill Montevecchi has expressed grave concern for the very future of the reserve. This reserve had a dedicated manager who closely monitored these situations, worked with local residents and tour operators to closely monitor the reserve and ensure all activity around the reserve promoted its protection and survival. No more. She was given the heave ho and now the reserve will be managed from Deer Lake. This is a devastating move that will have serious implications for the largest colony of North Atlantic Puffins in North America as well as the largest colony of Leaches Storm Petrels. And Tom Hedderson says his dept. can still carry out their responsibilities? Despicable.

  • G Jenkins
    March 30, 2013 - 12:43

    Ah yes Wildlife Division the great protector of the environment. Lets look at their success stories; 1. Introduction of the red squirel 2. Caribou population crash in province 3. Moose/vehicle collisions on our highways 4. Millions and millions of dollars spent on caribou research and no tangible results just a few of their success stories.

  • Eriodermaguy
    March 30, 2013 - 10:17

    I wholeheartedly concur with Joe Brazil's concern over cuts to the Wildlife Division. As a former employee of that agency, I know full well the muzzling that was exerted on staff from the senior executive level. It is apparent that government is using this round of cuts to create an appearance of legitimacy to their hidden plan of gutting the Wildlife Division, thereby leaving it impotent to protect the natural resources of the people. This government has nothing but contempt for any species that may impede development. This is quite evident by looking at the long and growing list of species recommended for protection under our Endangered Species Act. Government has flagrantly violated its own legislation by not affording these species their due protection on behalf of the people of the province.