Professional Employees Association



March 20, 2014 09:30 ET

New Report Says Provincial Government's Cutback of Expert Staff Threatens Future of British Columbia's Natural Resources

VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - March 20, 2014) - A steady decline over the past five years in the number of government licensed science officers employed by the provincial government has placed some of British Columbia's most valuable natural resources at risk, according to a report published today.

The report by the Professional Employees Association (PEA), which represents government licensed science officers, says since 2009 the province has cut the number of science officers by 15 per cent.

Professional foresters were hit hardest. The province now employs approximately 25 per cent fewer than it did five years ago. This has seriously undermined stewardship, monitoring of logging activity, reforestation, and data collection and analysis, which are essential to good forest management.

"Forests are one of B.C.'s most valuable publicly owned natural resources and need far better protection and management than they are getting," says PEA Executive Director, Scott McCannell. "These cutbacks threaten not only the forest environment, but also provincial revenue from forest companies, which are not being properly monitored and recorded."

Mark Haddock, an instructor at the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre and an authority on forest management practices, says oversight of B.C.'s forest resources is currently inadequate due in part to a lack of resources and support for a reasonable level of field observation and verification.

"For example, the number of inspections of forest operations by government inspectors dropped from 25,154 in 2002 to only 8,117 in 2012. The number of compliance actions arising from the inspections of major licensees was down from 810 to 174," says Mr. Haddock. "Fewer on-site inspections mean fewer checks and balances to ensure that companies operating in B.C.'s forests are playing by the rules."

Government licensed science officers provide independent review, analysis, research, advice and monitoring services to help ensure the efficient and effective management, utilization and oversight of B.C.'s natural resources, road and bridge infrastructure, food and water resources and some aspects of health care services.

"Science Officers are professionally trained and accredited experts and scientists," says Mr. McCannell. "They are often the first-line stewards of our natural resources and have oversight of the safety of roads and bridges. We believe there are now not enough science officers s working for the province to adequately look after the interests of British Columbians - and the situation is getting worse."

He says apart from foresters, there's also been a big cutback in the number of agrologists on the province's payroll. Numbers have dropped by approximately 23 per cent since 2009. Among their duties, agrologists play a key role in ensuring BCs food supply is safe and sustainable. They also provide monitoring and good management of B.C.'s agricultural lands, which is crucial to ensuring the health of the agricultural sector.

The number of engineers employed by the province to monitor, inspect and approve the construction and ongoing maintenance of infrastructure such as bridges and water supply facilities has also shrunk. As a result, says Mr. McCannell, facilities and projects are either not being monitored and inspected, or the government is relying on the private sector to monitor and report on its own activities.

He says it's difficult to determine the exact number of experts who have been let go or not replaced because the government has changed the way it classifies some science officers. However, there's no doubt that in most areas the numbers are down.

Mr. McCannell says much of the work science officers were doing has been cut back, discontinued, or contracted out to the private sector. The implications for B.C. include:

  • Loss of resource revenue due to reduced oversight;
  • The degradation of forest resources due to inadequate monitoring and inspection;
  • Public safety threats if infrastructure like bridges and water supply facilities are not regularly inspected and monitored; and
  • Threats to the environment if development impacts are not properly assessed.

The PEA study echoes concerns that have been raised in the past by B.C.'s Auditor General (AG). In a February 2012 report, the AG found that the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations lacked the capacity to gather important information about forest management.

Only a small portion of B.C.'s forests were ground surveyed to the extent needed to inform decision-making and assist in timber supply reviews, according to the AG's report. This impacted decisions made on harvesting timber, reforestation and the overall health of the forest resource. The audit detailed that the Government's current approach to forestry management was insufficient to offset a trend of fewer tress and less species diversity. Government takes in almost half a billion dollars annually from forestry and this revenue pays for public services. It makes sense to invest in the proper science to maintain this revenue stream and the biodiversity to make it sustainable.

About the PEA

The Professional Employees Association is a labour union representing 2500 professionals in British Columbia, including over roughly 1150 government licensed science officers working for the province of British Columbia.

View the full report and 'endangered experts' campaign videos at endangeredexperts.ca.

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