Cuts create risk to the environment

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We write to express our dismay at the recent cutbacks in the Department of Environment and Conservation, specifically the disproportionate cuts in the wildlife division as well as those in the parks and natural areas division. These cutbacks (almost 20 per cent of the wildlife division, which makes up only 0.08 per cent of the provincial public service) will make it very difficult for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to meet its publicly expressed commitments with regard to “management and conservation of wildlife,” and the “protection and preservation of outstanding components of our diverse natural heritage.”

In our estimation, the cuts in wildlife division’s biodiversity and endangered species section impair recovery efforts for plants and animals. With the current staff complement, the wildlife division will be unable to fulfill its provincial mandate under the Endangered Species Act and under species at risk legislation.

Reductions in the inland fish section of the wildlife division are affecting programs involving fish species, such as trout, which have huge cultural importance to residents of this province. This, when DFO has effectively withdrawn from freshwater species conservation and habitat protection.

Wildlife division is the key source of educational and outreach programs that increase public awareness on wildlife issues and promote hunter education. Major improvements had been made in these areas in recent years, but these gains are now likely to be lost.

A decrease in the numbers of professionals within wildlife division will weaken government’s ability to provide expert opinion on development activities and their impacts on our native flora and fauna.

This will weaken the environmental assessment process and open it to abuse and legal challenges.

These cuts will also impair the ability of the parks and natural areas division to fulfill its mandate to administer the Provincial Parks Act, the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act and the National Parks Land Act.

 

Already behind

Our province is already at a disadvantage compared to the rest of Canada, as we are the last province to implement a protected areas strategy — a keystone in ensuring a sustainable future during a time of unprecedented resources extraction. Our tourism industry is built on our protected areas. Abandoning them will devalue the industry.

The government has suggested in the media that only temporary/contract people have been let go. However, the reality is that in the last several years the wildlife division has had to rely on filling its ranks with temporary staff, some of whom had been in these “temporary” jobs for a number of years while permanent positions have remained unfilled.

The biodiversity program especially has suffered under these conditions. As a result, staff members have already been facing crushing workloads. Tracking species status and managing the associated reams of information in support of environmental impact statements, endangered species recovery and listing of species of concern will now be made almost impossible by these layoffs.

In addition to a lack of sufficient staff to complete mandated actions, job morale in these two divisions has suffered over the years due to the temporary nature of many positions and the workloads entailed trying to cover for unfilled positions.

Many of the good, young, up-and-coming professionals are being let go or are finding it difficult to function in their work environment.

They will be a loss to the province in many ways beyond the effect of their loss from the conservation field.

Given the current provincial emphasis on encouraging developments in ecotourism and natural resource use, it is vitally important that this province maintain a strong structure devoted to the health and well-being of our population which is culturally and physically linked to the health of our natural environment.

A pro-development agenda must be carried out with sensitivity and respect for the natural landscape. Ensuring a strong and vibrant Department of Environment and Conservation is critical to the timely delivery of scientifically robust and sustainable scenarios to decision makers.

More and more, customers and stakeholders in the fields of natural resources and tourism are demanding responsible environmental stewardship when they allocate their funds.

To enable the province to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens, to Canadians and globally, we urge government to cease the decimation that is being effected on the conservation component of the Department of Environment and Conservation, by allowing no further cuts to the divisions of wildlife and parks and natural areas and by reinstating sufficient allocations to positions to ensure we do not end up with environmental disasters.

 

John D. Jacobs is past president and Lois Bateman is the Humber representative for Nature Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organizations: Department of Environment and Conservation, Nature Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • david
    April 03, 2013 - 13:04

    These cuts will change the climate, cause our murder rate to increase, promote the gay lifestyle, and result in several new types of cancers. It's nothing short of amazing how precious little the people in these positions did when they had these "jobs", but now that they aren't there, the place will go to hell.

    • eriodermaguy
      April 03, 2013 - 19:15

      David, Get in tune! Over the past three weeks the place has already gone to hell. Peace, man.

  • Belb
    April 02, 2013 - 15:19

    When you find that your water is unsafe to drink, your fish, moose and berries to contaminated to eat, your trails lead to garbage dumps, your air to dusty to breath and your prized scenery is now a hole in the ground, come look for those you need to make things right. But be prepared to work hard to coax them back because they will not be near. They will have taken their education, enthusiasm and families to other lands where they are valued.

  • david
    April 02, 2013 - 13:44

    It's funny,,,when they get laid off, they were the "lynchpin" that keeps our civilization in operation. But when they were on the job, the place was going to hell anyway. They vcan'tt even figure out where the caribou are going!? The "environment" in Newfoundland is an absolute joke. So save my tax money, so I can go fishing in New Brunswick.

    • eriodermaguy
      April 03, 2013 - 06:13

      David, they know exactly where the caribou are going. They are at a harmonious population level for the available habitat here in Newfoundland. And caribou do have natural population cycles, and this is the reason behind the low numbers in Labrador. The George River herd was less than 30K in the 1950's. On the island, there were an estimated caribou in 1956 when the Wildlife Division was formed. Today there are around 35,000. Development and fragmentation of habitat has reduced the ability of caribou to access much of their former habitat and this number is probably a safe threshold. Just 3 years ago, the Wildlife Division refused to grant a mining company permission to use track vehicles to explore caribou habitat in the Gaff Topsails. Cabinet however saw fit to enlist a more sympathetic branch of the Department of Environment and Conservation to over-rule Wildlife, and the operator got his approval. This example, and many others similar, are why the Wildlife Division has been cut to the bone by this bullying, vindictive government.

  • EDfromRED
    April 01, 2013 - 20:24

    The PC's should beef up the protection of the environment, it's in their own interest. Come next election they'll be an "endangered species".