Whistler’s proactive steps toward managing its own bear problems has made it easier for the province to cut funding for one conservation officer position in the corridor.
And, now that there is funding for only two positions, it is highly unlikely Whistler will see a conservation officer stationed in the valley, as recently requested by the municipality.
The area from Lions Bay in the south through Whistler and Pemberton to the top of the Hurley River Pass in the north-west, and to the top of the Duffey Lake Road in the north-east, has traditionally been staffed by three conservation officers. The Ministry of Environment, however, recently moved funding — about $60,000-$70,000 for one conservation officer position — to their investigations unit in Surrey.
The ministry’s regional enforcement manager for the Lower Mainland Region, Bruce Cox, said he is only trying to make the best of a bad situation. “I am just trying to use my staff in the best way I can.”
Cox said the CO position based out of Squamish will not be removed from the organizational chart.
“I will maintain that position as an unfunded vacancy. We will see how things go with two officers there and hopefully, although this is very, very uncertain at this point, in time additional funding might be made available and we could look to refunding that position in Squamish and going back to a three-person district.”
Cox explained the investigation unit in Surrey is also a three-person section currently being manned by two. “The workload is very, very high in investigations and we are having trouble keeping up. We just seem to keep falling behind.”
He said the Sea to Sky area has proved it can manage with only two officers, which has been the case for almost a year now since Dave Elliot, the district supervisor, has been on medical leave. Elliot is back at work now and when Dan LeGrandeur was successful in obtaining a lateral transfer to Merrit two months ago, Cox took the opportunity to axe the funding for LeGrandeur’s post. LeGrandeur had been acting as district supervisor in Elliot’s absence.
The area’s other CO, Steve Jacobi, will also be transferred in a couple of months. Jacobi is relocating to Chilliwack and will be replaced by Sechelt’s Chris Doyle.
Cox said wildlife complaints consume a large chunk of the conservation officers’ time in the warmer months, leaving them little opportunity for other environmental enforcement work. “One of the advantages we have in the Squamish district is we have this co-operative working agreement with the Whistler RCMP, the bylaws and the Whistler municipality. They do the bulk of the work now in terms of dealing with problem bears. They don’t destroy the bears but will set traps and they do aversive conditions by shooting with rubber bullets to try and deter the bears coming into town,” said Cox. “Because they handle that aspect, that additional effort from Whistler has freed up a bit of time and allows the district, you could say, to function with reduced staffing.”