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It's impossible to police everywhere, minister says

May 18 2012
Environment Minister Terry Lake: "Lots of people" watching parks. 

Environment Minister Terry Lake: "Lots of people" watching parks.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (May 2012)

It is impossible to police all parks and protected areas in B.C. to prevent occasional tree thefts because they cover vast areas, Environment Minister Terry Lake said Thursday.

"We have 14 per cent of the total area of the province in parks and protected areas. It's simply impossible to think we could police every part of that," he said.

The theft of one of the largest red cedars in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is unfortunate, but thefts from parks happen intermittently, Lake said.

"Some of the wood we have is high value and some people, unfortunately, whether it's copper wire or beautiful cedar trees, will go to great lengths and great risks to steal from the public," he said.

Provincial figures show that the number of park rangers has dropped to 87 seasonal and 10 regular employees from 172 seasonal and 27 regular rangers in 2001-02.

But Lake said those numbers do not tell the whole story.

With the addition of area supervisors and protectedarea section heads, 164 staff - or 115 full-time equivalents - can carry out park-ranger duties, the ministry said.

The 700 staff employed by private-sector park facility operators also have "compliance responsibilities," said a ministry statement.

"There are lots of people that are [out] there and are our ears and eyes to make sure these things don't happen," said Lake, adding that Carmanah Walbran - located about 20 kilometres northwest of Port Renfrew - is a particularly isolated park.

However, Gwen Barlee, Wilderness Committee policy director, scoffed at the idea that desk-workers or parks operators would go deep into the bush to enforce the Parks Act.

"That is quite misleading," she said.

Real, not imaginary, park rangers are needed, Barlee said.

"Running into a park ranger is like running into an endangered species," she said. "They are incredibly rare."

Meanwhile, a former Carmanah area shake block harvester is questioning why power-saw marks on the red cedar stump and the equipment used to haul away the 800-year-old tree cannot be used to identify the poachers.

Jerry Stevens, who now lives in Sarnia, Ont., was fined 30 years ago for illegally cutting firewood.

"I was told each faller and power saw have their own special characteristics," he said.

It is almost certain that someone saw the wood being hauled out through Nitinat Lake or Cowichan, Stevens said.

"It would have been at least three complete truckloads. This is not a guy with a pickup truck," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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