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Conservation officers have become an endangered species: President Thomas

In a letter to the editor of the Windsor Star, President Warren (Smokey) Thomas shared a reader’s concern about enforcement of fishing rules.

His letter appeared in the October 3 print edition of the Windsor Star, calling on the provincial government to hire more conservation officers to enforce laws related to natural resources protection in Ontario.

Here is the letter President Thomas sent.

To the Editor:

RE: Reader letter: No rules apparent for those fishing along riverfront, September 7, 2020

As the President of OPSEU, the union that represents conservation officers in Ontario, I am glad to see concerned citizens asking good questions about the enforcement of fishing laws in Windsor. Ms. Weekes-Clarke noticed a number of possible violations (fishing in no-fishing areas, fishing licence requirements, catch and possession limits) and I’m glad she is speaking out.

Conservation officers are responsible for enforcing angling laws as well as other laws related to natural resources protection in Ontario. They lay charges for the fishing violations outlined above, and they can result in significant fines and more.

But the reason the public doesn’t see as many conservation officers as they used to is because the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has reduced their numbers to the lowest level in decades. There are fewer than 180 uniformed conservation officers in the entire province. They have become an endangered species in Ontario!

In the Windsor area, the Detroit River is home to one of the most popular sport fisheries in Canada, and the Lake Erie commercial fishing industry has one of the largest inland freshwater fisheries in the world. When you throw in hunting enforcement as well, there just aren’t enough conservation officers to deter and prevent violations of natural resources laws.

OPSEU has been calling on the Ontario government for years to hire more conservation officers. And yet, premier after premier has reduced rather than increased their numbers.

The current government made a welcome commitment during the election campaign in 2018 to hire more conservation officers. But we’re still waiting. We realize the pandemic has been the priority in 2020, but conservation officers have been key frontline workers during the pandemic, ensuring that emergency prohibitions on camping, fires, and large gatherings were enforced.

The fact is, we need a lot more conservation officers, and we have for years. I’m calling on the Ford government to keep their election promise and hire more of them.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President of OPSEU