While it may seem to residents that B.C. conservation officers are only concerned with bears, they often have to wear many hats. In addition, they have very similar authority to RCMP or municipal police. (Image from Facebook)

The many hats of a B.C. conservation officer

Not just the “bear police,” conservation officers have similar authority to RCMP

This time of year B.C.’s conservation officers are usually busy dealing with bear encounters, but this is just one aspect of their duties.

According to David Cox, a CO based in Penticton, no two days on the job are the same. He said because of the training a CO receives, they can assist in multiple law enforcement areas as well as search and rescue and wildfire efforts.

“In the 10 years that I have been doing this a lot has changed. Focuses have shifted, priorities have shifted, new legislation has come in so we wear different hats,” said Cox. “It’s always adapting and changing with the times. The role of a CO is quite broad, it’s not the same thing over and over every day.”

READ MORE: Tossed beer can takes B.C. conservation officers to unlicensed guns

“It’s definitely getting busier right now for sure. We’re dealing with a lot of illegal dumping files right now, obviously with spring cleaning and people moving,” said Cox. “It kind of goes hand-in-hand with people dumping miscellaneous junk out in the bush, and it leaves us to piece together the investigation and deal with that.”

“In terms of bear activity, it’s frustrating because we’re not getting a lot of buy-in from some of the local communities. A lot of residents are just not buying into managing their garbage and argue, ‘Well I’ve lived here for 10 or 15 years and this has never happened to me.’ That’s gotta stop,” said Cox. “We need people to take measures ahead of time to stop this conflict. Because ultimately, a fed bear is a dead bear.”

May long weekend is around the corner and Cox anticipates it will be just as busy as ever for COs in terms of checking in on camper activity. He said they like to see people out and enjoying parks and recreation areas, so long as they behave themselves and respect the area they’re utilizing.

“Seasonally, our job changes. So this time of year we are also dealing with pesticides being put out there into the environment. So we need to make sure people are storing them and using them correctly,” said Cox. “We have another division within the ministry that specializes in that, but when they find non-compliance or there are reports to our agency, we investigate those too to make sure everyone is safe.”

Cox said this time of year COs frequently attend to illegal burning calls, noting that there are certain days when controlled burns are allowed in certain areas, depending on the venting index.

“People tend to burn outside the venting index when it’s poor, so then the smoke settles in the valley and it’s bad for health,” said Cox. “And then sometimes prohibited items find their way into the fire as well, such as couches and all sorts of things so we have to investigate that a lot this time of year.”

READ MORE: B.C. conservation officers show alleged poachers unborn fawn after seizing pregnant deer

COs have similar authority to RCMP and police officers, according to Cox. While their mandate is to protect environmental resources and “they don’t go out looking for other types of infractions,” it is not uncommon for a CO to issue tickets for non-environment-related offences.

“We rarely need to get RCMP involved when we run our own investigations. We work in joint partnership with them all the time, but more so with officer safety scenarios. So if we know we are outnumbered or a situation is dangerous then obviously the more bodies there the better,” said Cox. “We enforce 32 different acts and legislation, so we have the authority to write violation tickets, warnings, or what we call a report to Crown counsel. So we do all that as COs”

Cox said, for example, they frequently come across reckless driving, stolen vehicles and impaired drivers, though they still lean on the RCMP for those type of infractions though.

READ MORE: ‘Lots of meat’ left on poached elk: B.C. Conservation Officer

And if you think that conservation officers are only worried about what happens on land, Cox explained they enforce boating legislation much like RCMP. Not to mention the various specialty divisions within the ministry such as the predator attack team, the major crimes unit, and the controlled alien species team.

One of the CO powers is that if a poacher is caught with illegal game, they have the authority to seize it as it is still the property of the Crown. From there, any usable portions of meat are donated to local First Nations groups or food banks so as not to let it go to waste.

To report a typo, email: [email protected].

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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