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

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

According to David Cox, with B.C. Conservation Officer Services out of Penticton, no two days on the job are the same. He said that because of the training COs receive, 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.”

“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 in response to how his past few weeks have been. “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.”

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

Cox said residents can face fines of $575 for illegal dumping and, in some cases, even a court appearance where they can face a heftier fine amount. He also explained that depending on the type of substances dumped and how long it remains there without being cleaned up, the dumpee can face multiple fines.

“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’s 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

A little known fact is that 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 out-numbered or a situation is dangerous than obviously the more bodies there the better,” said Cox. “We enforce 32 different acts and legislations, so we have the authority to write violation tickets, warnings, or what we call report to crown counsel. So we do all that as COs.

“COs are peace officers in the province of B.C., and we also have what is called special provincial constable status under the Police Act. So through that we have very similar authorities as RCMP and municipal policing.”

Cox said for example, they frequently come across reckless driving, stolen vehicles, and impaired drivers. He said they will 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.

He added that another lesser-known fact about CO duties and relationships is that if a poacher is caught with illegal game, they have the authority to seize it as it is still 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: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
JordynThomson 
Send Jordyn Thomson an email.
Like the Western News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Clinton and District Community Forest passes audit

According to a news release from Forest Practices Board on Feb. 19,… Continue reading

Research casts ‘last stop sign on Trans-Canada’ claim into doubt

Sign was removed from junction of Highways 1 and 97 in Cache Creek in February 1984

Savona athletes head to BC Winter Games

Akira Susanj and Alexander Teague competing in karate events

Ashcroft councillor wants to revisit Village’s burning bylaw

Raven Nyman’s regular report on Ashcroft council

Cache Creek unsuccessful in bid for Quartz Road bridge funding

Highlights from the most recent meeting of Cache Creek council

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Father and children killed in fatal crash near Kamloops

The family was travelling from Southern Alberta

Okanagan man swims across Columbia River to evade Trail police

RCMP Cpl. Devon Reid says the incident began the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20

‘Hilariously bad’: RCMP looking for couple with forged, paper Alberta licence plate

Mounties said the car crashed when it lost a wheel but the duo ran away as police arrived

Two scout leaders missing near Sooke after swollen creek traps troop

Third leader and scouts located, while search continues for two leaders who’d gone for help

Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sex crimes in landmark #MeToo trial

The cases against the Hollywood mogul started the #MeToo movement

CRA puts focus on paper returns as tax-filing season opens

The federal tax collector expects to handle about two million paper returns this calendar year out of roughly 26 million filings

Most Read