Conservation officers working for us and the great outdoors

By MPP Toby Barrett

Many in Ontario aspire to be a conservation officer (CO). I know I wanted to be a forest ranger while in high school, a sentiment shared by many today as 1,700 people recently applied for 25 CO positions.

Through the recently-amalgamated, Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, conservation officers enforce laws that protect our natural resources.

Their primary role is education and outreach, not only to anglers and hunters but also to the broader public. COs check license and harvest compliance, as well as auditing and ensuring compliance of hunting and fishing license issuers and commercial operators. When education and compliance are not successful, and in the right circumstances, they engage in investigations, the gathering of evidence and presenting that evidence in court if charges are laid.

Locally, conservation officers enforce hunting and fishing laws throughout the year. In the annual November and December controlled deer hunts, officers can be found checking on hunters. Extra officers are often brought in from other areas to help get the job done. As well, I often see conservation officers working at events throughout the year, such as Duck Day and the annual meeting of the Norfolk Woodlot Owners’ Association.

Similarly, COs are heavily engaged with monitoring moose hunting in the north. For example, focused operational activities might include things like setting up moose decoys to identify illegal hunting as well as conducting numerous patrols. Decoy operations are used to dissuade unsafe practices, like hunting across a road or hunting at night. A priority is ensuring safe practices are being followed. Focused patrols are conducted in high-use areas where there are significant numbers of violations being found. Once again, the addition of 25 officers will allow additional patrolling.

MNRF and Crime Stoppers have a longstanding partnership. Through this relationship, the public is encouraged to report violations related to the illegal trade and commercialization of all species of animals and plants, or any other law being broken. Crime Stoppers is connected to the MNRF TIPS hotline, 1-877-TIPS-MNR. This enables conservation officers to respond to inquiries from the public.

Ontario has 184 conservation officers working in about 50 locations across the province. In the process of recruiting these 25 new officers, a provincial training specialist will be hired in order to increase training capacity. This will ensure Ontario’s conservation officers are kept up to date on a wide range of legislation. Ongoing training is important as officers are responsible for about 27 pieces of legislation.

Each conservation officer is in contact with about 830 individuals on average each year. The addition of 25 officers, will allow for potentially increasing contacts  by an estimated 21,000 more individuals. This will assist and promote compliance with natural resource laws across the province. It will also allow more efficient response to approximately 6,500 tips from Crime Stoppers.

With over 250,000 lakes and countless acres of forest and field, the opportunities for people to get outdoors are endless. The policing of our lakes and forests is a big job. Increasing the CO ranks should help to alleviate some of that workload to ensure Ontario continues to be a world-class, sustainable outdoors destination.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk