It is a difficult task to place a value on experience, but it must be recognized when it’s lost – especially if that loss is at the detriment of wildlife in our national parks.
Parks Canada is currently in the midst of losing several key people with over a century of experience to an onslaught of retirements.
Don’t get us wrong, the ‘golden handshake’ is a beautiful thing and we wish well to all those who have reached the end of a career with the federal agency well.
But we can’t help but wonder what’s the effect when key positions are left vacant or eliminated altogether.
Take Mike Gibeau, the mountain parks carnivore specialist and an internationally-recognized grizzly bear expert.
As Gibeau prepares to retire, Parks Canada has no plans to fill that position.
That’s right. The position of overseeing and coordinating the carnivore conservation and policy programs for all of the national parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains will cease to exist.
We had to give our head a shake at this one.
Wolves and grizzly bears, the two major carnivore species of concern for conservationists in the region, are already facing enough challenges between the railway and the highway.
And Gibeau is not the only one to retire to see their position disappear.
Critics also point to the failure to replace science manager Cliff White – who retired within the last 14 months.
Add dwindling science budgets and cancelled programs on top of that and it makes us wonder what priority science has in the federal agency compared to visitor experience, which has seen several new positions created over the past 18 months.
Ensuring ecological integrity remains the number one priority for the mountain national parks is incumbent on a strong science program.
Parks officials point to new positions being created and a restructuring of the resource conservation branch as an indication they are not turning their back on science and believe they will have a stronger program once that restructuring occurs by April 1.
A weakened science program puts ecological integrity at risk to the benefit of competing interests like increased visitation and expanded uses.
You’ll forgive us for suspecting nefarious plots around every corner, but restructuring of government departments is not always a good thing if critical roles and responsibilities fall off the table.
We’re sure Parks Canada has no intention of letting such a situation occur, but we eagerly await the new resource conservation branch details along with conservation groups.
In the meantime, maybe officials should seriously consider suggestions by conservation groups that the mountain parks need a long-term science strategy and to put together a science advisory group.
Involving stakeholders in open, accountable and transparent processes to ensure science keeps its critical role in Parks Canada operations and the mandate of the agency is being met will benefit everyone, wildlife included.