40% decrease in enforcement targets for illegal hunters, anglers and netters
Toronto (20 July 2006) - Poachers, illegal anglers and others ready to flout Ontario's fish and wildlife laws are having a field day, courtesy of the province's Liberal government.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) says a shortsighted decision not to fill 35 vacant positions for conservation officers means that even fewer fish and game offenders are now being charged than usual across the province. Ontario's three airborne conservation officers have also been grounded.
OPSEU President Leah Casselman says the budget-cutting move is responsible for a 40% decrease by the ministry of natural resources in enforcement targets for those conservation officers who remain on the job.
The result is bound to be more poaching and other illegal activities, including illegal net fishing, more damage to stocks and a negative impact on tourist outfitters and the northern Ontario economy, she predicts.
'The signal is clear'
The North Bay Nugget summed up the situation in a telling editorial this week:
"Fewer boots on the ground and no eyes in the sky. The signal is clear. Gorge on moose and deer. Use illegal nets and kill bears out of season. Poachers' chances of being detected have been greatly diminished," the conservative newspaper said.
"No doubt the MNR is fighting inflation. Gasoline costs are hitting every organization that must move on wheels or by boat or airplane. Northerners have the uneasy feeling they have heard it all before. While assiduously seeking votes from animal lovers, wilderness advocates and every suburban expert on things northern, Queen's Park rarely understands northern realities," it added.
"Catching reckless or impaired drivers is understandable, commendable and supported by voters. Catching poachers rarely gets publicity and will not earn many big-city votes. Cutting conservation enforcement budgets may make excellent political sense but it is a disservice to Ontario's future generations and their heritage."
Parks staff also cut
Casselman says the cut in conservation staff follows an earlier short-sighted reduction in the equivalent of 226 summer jobs for students and seasonal workers in provincial parks.
"This is a 19% reduction compared to 2005, and will have a negative effect on wildlife protection and park services," she said.
"And people are paying more for poorer services: Ontario's 319 provincial parks are already 80% funded by user fees - the highest cost recovery rate of any park system in Canada."
Casselman said it's time for the Liberals to keep their election promise and restore public services, including parks.
"Let's turn up the heat this summer: I encourage everyone to visit Save Ontario Parks and have your say." NUPGE
• Summer fun marred by cuts to parks