Budget cuts hit Parks Canada scientists
About 50 Parks Canada scientists across the country have either lost their jobs or their jobs are at risk under the Harper government’s cuts to Parks Canada’s budget.
Parks Canada officials have continually refused to say how many scientists – and subsequently its world-renowned science program – are affected by the $29 million cutbacks. They have also refused to give a breakdown for Banff.
But a letter from the Minister’s Panel on Ecological Integrity of Canada’s National Parks says the cuts affect 50 Parks Canada ecosystem scientists – one-third of the federal agency’s entire scientific complement.
The letter from the 11-member panel to Environment Minister Peter Kent says that 36 of these scientists have had their positions eliminated and another 14 scientists have their jobs at stake.
“These are highly-educated public servants with decades of experience in ecological restoration and understanding natural systems,” said Jacques Gérin, a former deputy minister of Environment Canada who chaired the panel from 1999 to 2001.
“These are the people who know what is happening to Canadian ecosystems and how to restore endangered species like caribou, salmon and rare plants.”
The Harper government cut $29 million from Parks Canada’s budget as part of an overall plan to eliminate 19,000 jobs across the various federal government departments and agencies in a bid to save $5.2 billion.
Parks Canada was one of the hardest hit by the budget cuts, with 1,689 employees across the country given notice that their jobs will be affected or eliminated.
Public servants who received “affected” notices won’t all necessarily lose their jobs, and in some cases their seasons and hours of work will be shortened, while “surplus” means their jobs are definitely being eliminated.
In the Banff field unit, 34 notices were sent to employees, including 22 affected and 12 surplus, including 10 voluntary. In addition, 49 vacant positions were eliminated and 18 of those were from the resource conservation branch.
Gérin also said more than one-quarter of Parks Canada’s technical specialists who support science and ecosystem management are being cut across the country: geographic information specialists, remote sensing specialists, monitoring technicians and human-wildlife conflict specialists.
Experts say reducing Parks Canada’s ability for science flies in the face of the federal agency’s mandate, which specifies that all decisions affecting national parks must first consider ecological integrity.
Conservationists say the watering down of Parks Canada’s science capacity show the Harper government’s “contempt for science and knowledge-based decision-making”.
They also say it is a clear reflection of the way priorities have dramatically shifted within Parks Canada in the last few years, from one of conservation to more of a business model.
Mike McIvor, president of Bow Valley Naturalists, said it took Parks Canada a long time to develop significant capacity for its science program and it’s alarming to see it diminish.
“They built up their science capacity and all the good work that has been done is completely discounted,” he said.
“It is shameful for the federal government and shameful for senior Parks Canada management.”
Through the years, Banff has developed its science capacity, studying grizzly bears, wolves, elk and cougars.
“We understand so much more than we did when the whole process began – not that we go as far yet as we should,” McIvor said.
“We certainly have a good idea of what we need to be doing to retain not only individual species, but the processes that they are a part of, and that takes a lot of work.”
But there is still more work to be done, including how the onward march of global warming may affect species.
“We don’t, for example, know very much about insects. We don’t know their role and we don’t even know what’s here,” McIvor said. “When we don’t know what’s here, that’s when we start losing species.”
Gérin said the federal government spin is these budget cuts are about “finding efficiencies” and there will be “no reduction in service.” “Such spin is simply nonsense,” he said. “Parks Canada is being gutted.”
Gérin said a decade ago a panel of experts he chaired concluded Canada’s national treasures were indeed in danger and the minister of the day accepted all of the report’s recommendations.
He said the recommendations included increasing scientific understanding and capacity to monitor ecological health, restoring degraded park lands, rebuilding relationships with Aboriginal peoples and developing better programs for Canadians to learn about and connect to the natural world.
“Successive governments took these recommendations seriously and Parks Canada developed a world-class monitoring and science program,” Gérin said.
“All these achievements are now at risk: they will be eliminated or dramatically undermined. Is it too late to reconsider before we undo a decade of great progress?”
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says the research Parks Canada’s scientists have done in the past – from wildlife movement corridors to aquatic connectivity – is internationally recognized.
“By cutting down the research capacity, we’re not only impacting how effectively our parks can be managed, but influencing Canada’s ability to contribute to ecological research on an international scale, and in that way these cuts will be noticed far beyond the boundaries of our national parks,” said Sarah Elmeligi, senior conservation planner for the group’s southern Alberta chapter.
“The National Parks Act also stipulates managing for ecological integrity must be the number one priority, but in order to address that part of the mandate we need to make sure our ecological integrity research is robust and current.”
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