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Scientists slam Nelson office closure

Nelson scientists are protesting the closure of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program’s Nelson office.  - Angus Glass photo
Nelson scientists are protesting the closure of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program’s Nelson office.
— image credit: Angus Glass photo

More than 40 scientists and land management professionals have signed a letter to BC Hydro protesting the closure of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program’s Nelson office.

The letter, dated November 19, and carbon copied to a variety of MLAs, urges Hydro to change its mind about shutting the office, which is expected to take place by the end of January, putting several people out of work.

The closure is in response to a government-commissioned panel that suggested Hydro should reduce staff rather than increase rates. The Crown corporation says fish and wildlife programs will continue to be delivered, but will rely more heavily on community groups to carry out the work.

However, the signatories to the letter — who include biologists, foresters, geologists and agrologists — say they have grave concerns about the cuts.

“Most of our group has worked with various members of the staff of the [program],” the letter reads. “We have found the role played by those staff has been essential to accomplishing the goals and legal requirements of compensating for the impacts of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin.”

The letter further states that many compensation projects “would not have been as effective (or in some cases even possible) without local scientific staff.”

“These roles bring compensation benefits well beyond those that accrue from one-off projects funded from a distance. Loss of these vital roles will compromise a wide range of basin-based initiatives and their associated benefits,” the letter says.

The signatories also note many among them are consultants who could potentially benefit from a shift from long-term staff to more contract work, “However, we are unanimous in rejecting this approach, as it is not in the best interests of the compensation program’s objectives.”

They say longterm scientific staff are “an essential element” of the program, and provide “continuity and co-ordination” for contracted projects, as well as technical assistance. They further argue closing the Nelson office will do “serious damage” to the program with no apparent cost savings or benefit.

“It is very unusual to get scientists to speak out on anything, but in this case they are unanimous in recognizing the foolishness of this move by Hydro,” says Greg Utzig, one of the signatories. “Since the letter has been sent, more and more scientists keep coming forward wanting to add their names.”

In addition, Utzig says about a dozen others who are BC government employees have endorsed the letter but chosen to remain anonymous.

He adds the office closure comes at an “interesting time,” since negotiations around the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty are beginning, along with renewed discussions about the Site C dam on the Peace River.

The compensation program, established to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat affected by BC Hydro dams, is also laying off staff in Prince George.

FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER

As a group of concerned scientists and land management professionals, we strongly urge that the decision by BC Hydro to close the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program – Columbia Basin office in Nelson be rescinded.

Most of our group has worked with various members of the staff of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program – Columbia Basin and its predecessor programs over the past years – some for over 15 years. We have found the role played by those staff has been essential to accomplishing the goals and legal requirements of compensating for the impacts of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin. In addition to administering the BC Hydro compensation funds, the staff has initiated, supported and carried out many compensation projects that would not have been as effective (or in some cases even possible) without local scientific staff.

Having scientific expertise in the Basin facilitates cooperation and coordination by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program with projects and programs of other government agencies, local communities and nongovernmental organizations. Staff-agency-consultant working partnerships have created many key conservation initiatives such as Northern Leopard Frog recovery, Western Screech-Owl recovery, East and West Kootenay ecosystem restoration initiatives, and nutrient restoration programs. The incremental value from Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program staff support and leadership on projects has paid environmental dividends to the region and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.

Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program – Columbia Basin staff have played a key role in the success of the East Kootenay Conservation program and in the recent move to expand the program to the broader basin as the “Kootenay Conservation Program” for coordinated acquisition and management of private lands for conservation purposes. The staff have also played an instrumental role in improving environmental awareness in the Basin through public education and extension.

These roles bring compensation benefits well beyond those that accrue from one-off projects funded from a distance. Loss of these vital roles will compromise a wide range of basin-based initiatives and their associated benefits.

Many of our group are consultants who could potentially benefit from shifting funding from long-term staff to increased contract work. However, we are unanimous in rejecting this approach, as it is not in the best interests of the Compensation Program’s objectives. Longterm scientific staff located in the Basin are an essential element of the program as they provide continuity and coordination of contracted projects. Many local groups that carry out compensation projects (e.g., rod and gun clubs, watershed groups and other conservation organizations) regularly call on the technical staff to access technical informationFish and Wildlife Compensation Program – Columbia Basin or to seek other assistance in designing projects such as terrestrial and fish habitat restoration. Program planning, implementation and monitoring by full-time staff with scientific expertise in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are essential for an effective compensation program.

Lastly, as the effects of global climate change begin to further stress regional ecosystems and complicate operation of the dams in the basin, the importance of local monitoring and the ability to adapt the compensation program to changing needs will increase dramatically.

The experience and expertise of local Compensation staff will become even more important to implementing an effective, efficient and flexible compensation program.

BC Hydro has significant and dynamic environmental compensation challenges to meet in the region, and those challenges will be more effectively met with committed local technical staff. Because BC Hydro funding for the compensation program remains the same regardless of whether there are local staff or not, closing the Nelson office will do serious damage to the program with no apparent cost-savings or other benefit. We close by again urging BC Hydro to rescind its decision to close the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program – Columbia Basin office in Nelson.

For further information, please contact Greg Utzig or any of the signatories below.

Sincerely (in alphabetical order),

Apps, Clayton, Ph.D, R.P.Bio.

Beaucher, Marc-Andre, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Boulanger, John, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Braumandl, Tom, B.S.F., R.P.F.

Carver, Martin, Ph.D., P.Eng./P.Geo, P.Ag.

Davis, Rod, M.Sc., P.Ag.

Decker, Scott, M.Sc., R.P.F.

Durand, Ryan, B.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Gayton, Don, M.Sc., P.Ag.

Geisler, Mike, R.P.F. (retired)

Hagen, John, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Harrower, William, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Hausleitner, Doris, M.Sc, R.P.Bio

Holt, Rachel, Ph.D., R.P.Bio.

Horrocks, Kimberley, M.Sc.

Kenney, Alice, B.Sc.

Kinley, Trevor, M.E. Dec., R.P.Bio.

Korol, Burke, M.Sc.

Leslie, Erik, R.P.F

Machmer, Marlene, M.Sc., R.P. Bio.

MacHutchon, Grant, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Macrae, Robert M., M.Sc.

Marshall, Fred, M.For., R.P.F., P.Ag.

McKenzie, Evan, B.Sc., R.P.Bio.

McPhail, Don, Ph.D. (professor emeritus)

Myers, Judith, Ph.D. (professor emerita)

Paetkau, David, Ph.D.

Parfitt, Ian, B.L.A.

Pinnell, Heather, R.P.F.

Poole, Kim, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Redfern, Lawernce, M.Sc., P.Ag., R.P.F.

Sachs, Donald, Ph.D.

Schneider, Daniel, B.Sc., B.I.T.

Serrouya, Robert, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Simard, Suzanne, Ph.D., R.P.F.

Snyder, Joan, Ph.D., R.P. Bio. (retired)

Spence, Colin, B.Sc., R.P.Bio. (retired)

Steeger, Chris, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

Stuart-Smith, Kari, Ph.D., R.P.Bio.

Thompson, Steve, B.Sc., P.Ag.

Tipper, Gary, P.Ag., R.P.Bio.

Utzig, Greg, M.Sc., P.Ag.

Wallace, Carol, P.Geo.

Wilson, Brendan, Ph.D., R.P.Bio.

Woods, Guy, R.P.Bio.

Zimmer, Michael, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.

 

 

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