As a result of the recent slashing of enforcement jobs within the fisheries and wildlife enforcement division, you may as well post neon signs around the province stating “Welcome Poachers!”
Last fall, at meetings in Gander and St. John’s, officials told us that they had worked at a level of only 60 per cent staffing in 2011. We were assured this was about to change and that this year they would be at a full complement of 88 officers. Given the recent budget announcement, this certainly isn’t about to happen. All 23 proposed positions have been eliminated. What a catastrophe.
Right now, under this ridiculous scenario, there will be one officer covering the whole of the Great Northern Peninsula — just one, in an area that needs about 20 full-time officers. They are responsible for enforcing fish, big game and small game and trapping laws. It’s mission impossible!
In a recent playback of an exchange in the House of Assembly, an opposition member questioned how that officer would possibly cover such a huge area. The response was almost laughable — “We have well-trained staff!”
I have to wonder if mind-enhancing drugs are involved here because that certainly couldn’t be a rational answer. All the training in the world won’t matter if officers aren’t able to service such a massive geographic area — and that’s just one part of the island. If they are not on mind-enhancing medication then there’s just one answer — an inability to see the reality of the situation.
We are talking about enforcement officers who spent hundreds of hours of their own time — unpaid time — trying to catch poachers. We aren’t talking about lying in the Florida sun. They were out there in the cold, the wet, with the unrelenting mosquitoes and placing themselves in sometimes dangerous confrontations — and they were successful. We are talking about good, dedicated people who took pride in their job.
We know that fishing, wildlife and trapping activities generate $168 million a year for this province. The budget to operate the fisheries and wildlife enforcement division is miniscule compared to the value of the resource.
This brings us back to the importance of protecting what we have — not just for today but for the generations ahead of us.
Other Justice Department jobs that were cut have been reviewed and some of them reinstated. It’s clearly time for a second look at enforcement as well.
The importance of the fisheries and wildlife enforcement division component became clear a couple of years ago when then-premier Danny Williams announced an increase in the strength by another 20 officers. Since then, they have been provided with improved surveillance equipment and enhanced training. He was so encouraged by their success and their impact on the protection of our resources that he saw this investment as a priority.
If there was ever a success story for enforcement in this province, then this is it. To arbitrarily cannibalize the division is unacceptable to the nth degree. We implore the government to revisit this staffing tragedy and get those officers back in the field doing what they know how to do best — protecting our natural resources.
If this isn’t done, then this government will have the unenviable distinction of being responsible for the ruination of what we have in fish, wildlife and trapping resources for future generations. Ironically, the Department of Justice has created a travesty of justice within its own walls.
We look forward to hearing something positive, and soon.
Keith Piercey is enforcement chair with the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. He writes from Corner Brook.