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 This, when DFO has effectively withdrawn from freshwater species conservation and habitat protection.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.
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.