Long Beach surf-guard program victim of cuts to Parks Canada
May 15 2012
Surfers riding the waves in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will not be able to rely on help from shore if they get into trouble this summer.
The Long Beach surf-guard program, which has been in place for almost four decades, is being canceled because of federal government budget cutbacks even though the surf guards averaged 10 water rescues a year.
"We had four seasonal surf guards who worked from mid-June to mid-September when there was the most activity on the beach," said Renee Wissink, Parks Canada manager of resource conservation for Pacific Rim.
In addition to watching for surfers in trouble - usually novices who did not know enough about the rip tides and cold water of Long Beach - the surf guards also worked in education and prevention, trying to head off problems before they reached the water.
In 2011 there were six in-water rescues and 878 contacts with people on the beach, Wissink said.
"A vast majority of what they do is on the preventative side of the program, when you have people who might get into trouble and keeping them away from problem areas," he said.
"It is a different skill from lifeguards. Part of the success has been because they were surfers themselves and knew how to relate to the clientele," he said.
The busiest year was 2007, when there were 20 in-water incidents.
Remaining staff will beef up the prevention program and liaise with surf shops, Wissink said.
"We have signage in place already on the beach and in the parking lots, and sandwich boards to warn people away from certain areas," he said.
When an inexperienced surfer gets into trouble, experienced surfers usually jump in to help and that is likely to continue, said Wissink, adding that he does not believe the lack of surf guards will lead to serious accidents.
Parks Canada spokeswoman Laura Judson said safety remains a priority.
"Parks Canada staff trained in public safety and rescues will still be available in the Long Beach unit of the park," she said.
Altogether, 12 positions were declared surplus at Pacific Rim and another seven at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. A further 10 positions at Gulf Islands will have shorter employment seasons.
Those whose positions were declared surplus have until the end of August to look at options.
Parks Canada's budget was reduced by $29.2 million as part of the Harper government's Economic Action Plan. In all, 638 agency jobs are being cut in an effort to reduce expenditures.
The operating season of Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim will be reduced to a season of May 1 to Thanksgiving. At Gulf Islands, McDonald Campground's season will be shortened to May 1-Sept. 30. Kwisitis Visitor Centre at Pacific Rim will be open seven days a week from May 1 to Labour Day, and five days a week in shoulder seasons. However, the centre will open in storm season for the first time.
In Gulf Islands, there will be fewer visitor services staff and interpreters in the park during shoulder seasons.
"There are no changes to law-enforcement operations in the park," Judson said.