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Ministry staff to act as park rangers

May 19 2012

Provincial forestry technicians and science officers have been given authority to act as park rangers and will help patrol provincial parks this long weekend.

The deputization of staff from the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry was revealed Friday after intense criticism of the government by the NDP and conservation groups for the dwindling number of park rangers.

Lack of park oversight was blamed for the illegal cutting and removal of an 800-year-old red cedar from Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.

An unknown number of forest technicians, whose usual jobs range from planning cutblocks to reforestation, and science officers, whose usual jobs are in areas such as air and soil quality, were deputized earlier this month and given ID cards saying they have the authority of a park ranger.

"These staff are all enforcement officers with well-defined training for compliance and enforcement activities," said Environment Ministry spokesman Suntanu Dalal.

"Some have taken specific training on the Park Act, but even those who don't have this training are all sufficiently trained to deal with non-compliance or enforcement occurrences in a provincial park, similar to what they would be dealing with at a [Forests] recreation site."

Parks staff are working closely with forestry staff, giving background information before they visit provincial parks, he said.

New Democrat Scott Fraser, Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA, said deputizing people from the already shortstaffed Forests Ministry makes no sense.

"They have gone headhunting from the one ministry that has just been slammed by the auditor general for not having the people power to do an inventory of the forests," Fraser said.

It is unreasonable to deputize someone doing a full-time job in another ministry, Fraser said.

"This is like a quick and dirty fix. Park rangers have a skill set and training that's somewhat unique," he said. "Forest technicians have a completely different job description from rangers."

Ministry figures show the number of park rangers dropped to 87 seasonal and 10 regular employees for the past three years, down from 172 seasonal and 27 regular employees in 2001-02.

However, park rangers are assisted by 67 area supervisors and section heads, Dalal said.

Section heads spend most of their time in the office, but area supervisors spend up to 30 per cent of their time in the field, he said.

Gwen Barlee, Wilderness Committee policy director, said deputizing Forests Ministry staff as park rangers amounts to double-dipping.

"I can't imagine if they are working 100 per cent of the time as forest technicians they have time to work as park rangers," she said.

"No new park ranger positions are actually being created, the government has just issued cards saying full-time technicians are magically park rangers."

Meanwhile, the Wilderness Committee and B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, which represents park rangers, is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone providing information to RCMP leading to a conviction for poaching the red cedar from Carmanah Walbran.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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