British Columbia

B.C. parks down to 7 full-time rangers

"One of the most endangered species in all of Canada is the Northern Spotted owl ... we have fewer rangers than spotted owls," says advocate Gwen Barlee.

Number of full-time park rangers has dropped from 27 in 2001, says BCGEU

A park ranger paddles across Lowe Lake in the K'mooda/Lowe Gamble Conservancy. (Ben Sabal/Facebook)

Seven full-time park rangers are now responsible for patrolling 14 million hectares of protected areas in the province — an area larger than the size of Greece.

That's according to data given to the B.C. Government and Services Employee Union (BCGEU) who says that number is down from 27 full-time rangers in 2001, even though parks and protected areas have grown since then.

"They're the guys that are supposed to have their boots on the ground enforcing the parks act," said Gwen Barlee from the advocacy group Wilderness Committee. "With two million hectares per ranger, there are many places they can never get to."

But it's not just the number of full-time park rangers that worries Barlee, it's the resources too.

Gwen Barlee is a policy director with the Wilderness Committee. (Gwen Barlee)

Barlee obtained emails from a freedom of information request revealing cuts in 2012 and 2014 that have forced park rangers to do more with less.

"They don't have travel dollars, so they pool vehicles," said Chris Bradshaw from the BCGEU. "They have rangers sleeping in trucks because their travel allowances have been cut back — there's no money for hotels."

In 2001, the annual park budget was about $41 million. Today, it's down to $31 million.

"You still want to make sure you know what's happening with logging, poaching and ATVs," said Barlee. "Park rangers were having a hard time getting money for toilet paper, lumber and lug nuts for repairs — they even thought about renting dirt bikes."

In an email, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment, responsible for overseeing B.C.'s parks, said for 2016-17, "there will be up to 164 people working who have the formal training and been granted the authority of a Park Ranger."

The letter stated that 77 of those positions are "regular" and another 87 are potential seasonal jobs.

"There's a lot of weasel words there," responded Barlee. "What they aren't saying is how many park rangers do we have in British Columbia — and we know the answer to that is seven."

Several years ago the provincial government began deputizing other B.C. park employees as park rangers, according to Barlee.

"With forestry technicians, they waved a magic wand and said 'Oh, you're going to become a park ranger,'" she said. "They were trying to confuse the public and actually make them think there were actually more rangers in our park than there currently are."

A park ranger resets a backcountry route and assesses conditions on the Black Mountain Plateau in Cypress Provincial Park. (Parks BC/Facebook)

The high season

From October to April, each full-time park ranger is responsible for roughly two million hectares — roughly two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island.

During the summer months, the province hires auxiliary rangers to help with the increased traffic to parks. Many of them rely on the seasonal work in the same way as those in the fishing industry.

In 2009, the provincial government cut around half of the auxiliary rangers for the summer season.

Since then, the BCGEU has increasingly received reports of auxiliary rangers working only eight weeks, instead of the three to four months they previously were employed for.

Future funding

At roughly $2 per hectare, Barlee says B.C. lags behind most of North America when it comes to investing in its parks.

Barlee says park rangers are more rare than the endangered spotted owl, seen here. (Debra Reid/AP)

"There have been recommendations in the past from the auditor general, there have been recommendations in the past from the Park Legacy Panel — which is a government-appointed panel," said Barlee. "And they said, 'Double the budget for B.C. parks.'"

Even staffed at a level of 50 full-time park rangers, each individual ranger would have to patrol up to 20 parks.

"One of the most endangered species in all of Canada is the Northern Spotted owl," said Barlee. "We have fewer rangers than spotted owls."

With files from Angela Sterritt