B.C. union reports conservation service staffing levels dangerously low

Wildfire calls on the rise, leads to unsafe work environment

Two recent reports from the union representing conservation officers in British Columbia point to understaffing, which the union said has resulted in dangerous working conditions.

Released in mid-July by the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), a report conducted in 2011 by then-chief conservation officer Edward Illi showed single officer posts employed by the provincial government “exposes officers and the government to risk” and that the department “does not have adequate uniformed officers deployed throughout B.C.”

Illi’s report called for an increase of 40 conservation officers in the short and medium term in order to achieve what he called “minimum deployable strength.”

A second report by the Society of B.C. Conservation Officers was simultaneously released and assessed staffing levels from 2001 and 2012. The report concluded 42 field officers were lost over that period, or a 32 per cent staff reduction. Since 2001, there has been a 70 per cent increase in wildfire calls and a 56 per cent jump in poaching and polluting calls, the report noted.

According to the union, changes to legislation have broadened a conservation officer’s duties — including enforcing federal and provincial statutes related to environmental regulation compliance and public safety — but without any corresponding increase to staffing levels.

“The B.C. government has known since 2011 that understaffing has created an unsafe work environment for conservation officers,” said Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU. “Their response has been to consolidate some single officer posts, while leaving large areas like Revelstoke without a local conservation officer.”

Smith said there are currently nine single officer posts and 15 conservation officer vacancies in the service.

“This is unacceptable and clearly shows that the government must hire more officers to protect our members and the people of British Columbia,” she added.

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