Return of Alberta Fish and Wildlife
seven years of bureaucracy, the Fish and Wildlife Service returns from
was lifting from the fields and the eastern sky was crimson, foretelling
of the dawn to come on the prairies. He stood very still in the patch
of dark woods and listened to the geese passing overhead, identifying
each flight by their voices. First he heard the Lesser Canadas, just making
them out as they passed over in the lightening sky. Following these, a
small flight of Speckle Bellies and then the staccato sounds of the Snows,
long lines of them, winding their way to their arctic nesting grounds.
They followed the mysterious urging that would inextricably draw them
the thousands of miles to their destination, a place to which they had
returned each year since far before man measured time. He pondered the
prairies that the ancestors of these birds had flown over on this same
journey a hundred years ago, two hundred, a thousand. Had a man like him
stood here near this spot and listened to them in the dawn a thousand
years ago? Yes, he had, no doubt about it. What was his purpose? Was he
a hunter like him? Of that he was certain. Was his purpose to stalk an
elk or a bison, perhaps? Did he wonder where the geese were going? Would
he have understood why someone like himself, far into the future, would
stand here and why? He pondered who would stand here a hundred years from
now and what their purpose would be.
after dawn, there was one conclusion he drew. No deer were passing by
on the trail he stood by. That was all right too. His mission was to kill
them after all, to add them to the study to search for Chronic Wasting
Disease, a scourge that was heading this way. His purpose was therefore
an unnatural one, one on this morning that deserved to fail. CWD was a
disease that wasn't supposed to be here, after all. People who unknowingly
played with fire helped it along. He quietly returned to the patrol truck
that was parked behind a screen of brush. His partner returned also. He
had also seen the geese and no deer. Nearby residents were likely making
their coffee right now, he thought. Would they know the officers had been
and gone? Maybe, maybe not.
be relied upon to respond to threats to our natural resources without
hesitation? When things get tough, who comes through in the crunch? Conservation
officers do, and as a whole they are a very conservative lot. They do
not suffer fools and bunglers gladly. I am one of them, a CO, but perhaps
I am also one of those fools.
wonder once in a while who is calling the shots in protecting your resources.
Well, lately there have been more changes in the provincial government.
After a quiet provincial election on March 12, 2001, the Government of
Alberta announced a series of re-structuring moves. The Natural Resources
Service of Alberta Environment, the employer of conservation officers,
was a major casualty of this re-structure. The aftermath of this announcement
has been the splitting of responsibilities of conservation officers into
two areas: with the Fish and Wildlife Service placed in the new department
of Sustainable Resource Development and with the Parks and Protected Areas
Division moved to the department of Community Development. Approximately
70 per cent of conservation officers have been placed in the new Fish
and Wildlife Service and 30 per cent in Parks and Protected Areas.
of the executive members from the Conservation Officers Association of
Alberta recently met with the Honorable Mike Cardinal, the Minister of
Sustainable Resource Development. I was very pleased to discover that
he is very supportive of our goals and he was particularly outspoken on
the need to ensure distinctive identities for officers in the new Fish
and Wildlife Service and to restore the pride in our history that had
nearly been lost.
must contemplate having traveled a full circle in seven years. In 1994,
Alberta's (then) Fish and Wildlife Division was planning a celebration
to mark its 35th anniversary. These preparations were cut short, however,
with the announcement that the Fish and Wildlife Division was being eliminated
by department re-structuring and replaced with the new Natural Resources
Service (NRS), a combination of divisions from three former government
departments. The former Fish and Wildlife Division employees were shocked
and dismayed at the loss of their proud identity with Fish and Wildlife.
It was the same story with the Parks Service. There would be no recourse
for any of them. The anniversary preparations for the (then defunct) Fish
and Wildlife Division were quietly cancelled. Let us just say that nothing
works better to crush morale than making a statement that the proud history
of your organization means nothing. In 1994, both Fish and Wildlife Officers
and Park Rangers found themselves in the new NRS. In 1995, responding
to concerns over changing responsibilities, the government of the day
promised it would not combine Park Rangers and Fish and Wildlife Officers
into a single series (that changed in November of 1998 when the government
announced it would do just that!).
back in 1996, a seemingly innocent move was made by NRS management to
strike a committee comprised of employees from different branches of the
service. This committee, known as the Uniform Committee, would be assigned
to formulate changes to uniforms and other visible identifiers within
the new service.
to say that the Uniform Committee of the rank and file toiled endlessly
over details of such things as new patrol vehicle door insignia and uniforms.
Late in 1996, amid anxious hand wringing and anticipation by management,
the committee's report was submitted. A key message in this report was
the need to retain distinctive identities for those who worked in different
responsibilities within the service. Management responded unilaterally
in early 1997 by ignoring numerous recommendations of the committee. A
new policy was released that made all uniforms worn within NRS the same,
both for enforcement and non-enforcement staff. Uniform shirts, pants
and shoulder flashes would be identical for all branches. Department vehicles
would also be made as generic as possible.
niceties, Fish and Wildlife officer and park ranger dress tunics were
eliminated. Fish and Wildlife officer forage hats were deemed too "police-like"
and were eliminated in lieu of baseball caps. Fish and Wildlife officer
rank insignia was also eliminated but, out of general embarrassment we
shall presume, these pins were still made available at the central warehouse
for some years.
On the subject
of dress tunics and rank insignia, a little history is in order. Certain
individuals within the department in 1997 and later, were very negative
for reasons that were obscure. At least some of these individuals used
their influence to ensure that anything too "police-like" must
be deemed "elitist" (I quote) and removed. Out went the uniform
(and who knows what other identity changes were influenced by this attitude)
of Fish and Wildlife officers. Presuming that one of these people may
read this and somehow generate the nerve to respond, I await the opportunity
to hear from them.
else could change?
of Enforcement, Jim Struthers, retired in 1997 and management unilaterally
eliminated the Chief of Enforcement position he held. Thereafter, Regional
Superintendent positions from the former Fish and Wildlife Division were
eliminated. A new, softer management approach was chosen to replace them.
This was the adoption of the Area Management concept - a move that had
failed and was rejected in some other jurisdictions. Senior officers from
the rank and file applied for these positions but, thanks to careful screening
criteria, the majority had their applications screened out of the competition
and they were refused interviews.
In May of
1998 a bungled "officer series review" was announced. The five pay levels
in the officer series was handily reduced to three levels, a move deemed
quite adequate by Human Resources experts. No doubt they used slide rules
in making this careful calculation. This fine move undid 30 years of fine-tuning
for the officer series and put it in a state where inconsistency in pay
levels versus responsibilities can now readily be found. Following the
bulk of the series review was the November 1998 announcement that Fish
and Wildlife officers and park rangers would be combined into a single
stream of conservation officers and share identical responsibilities.
series review exercise finally concluded in June of 1999 with the outcome
of forced job competitions that had been arranged to see which officers
would be in charge of each NRS district. The last change created the conservation
officer in legislation, and this took effect on February 15, 2000.
of employee morale in the new department was undertaken. Lo and behold!
Morale was found to be low!
all history now. With the last changes impacting conservation officers
completed in February of 2000, it took just over a year before the March
15, 2001, decision to reverse many of the organizational changes that
have occurred during the last seven years. Conservation officers are now
separated between two departments that house Fish and Wildlife, and Parks
and Protected Areas respectively. There have been a lot of mistakes made.
We need to get the lead out of the agenda to iron out who does what, establish
the roles, responsibilities and identities of officers within the two
departments and get on with it.
on these elements in our strength, on these resources which we have mobilized
and control. I dwell on them because it is right to show that the good
cause can command the means of survival; and that while we toil through
the dark valley we can see the sunlight on the uplands beyond. Sir Winston
Churchill - taken from War of the Unknown Warriors, July 14, 1940, BBC
Pat Dunford is a member of the Conservation Officers
Association of Alberta in Edmonton