Since Brittany Mueller was a little girl, she’s always had a passion for the great outdoors. For her, pursuing a career as a conservation officer in B.C. is a dream come true.
After three years working in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country, she’s taken a position with B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and recently attended the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy — basic training program for conservation officers in Western Canada.
“I’m really looking forward to the firearms training. We’re learning to handle three types of firearms, and I’ve never carried a hand gun before,” Mueller said. “As a seasonal employee in Alberta we were only trained on the rifle and shotgun.”
For the first time, B.C. is hosting future conservation officers at a training academy in Metchosin. Twenty recruits from across western Canada have converged on Canadian Forces base Albert Head to take part in the conservation academy.
This is the fourth delivery of the program, which began in 2007. It ran for three years at the Hinton Training Centre in Alberta before moving to Greater Victoria, said Sgt. Greg Kondas, officer in charge of WCLEA.
Representatives have come from each jurisdiction in western Canada except the Yukon, with 12 recruits coming from B.C., one each from Alberta and Saskatchewan and six from Manitoba for the 16-week training course finishing at the end of March. Each successful graduate is eligible for posting to a community in their home province.
“A huge factor of why we decided to have it here was the weather at this time of year,” Kondas said. “Although lately the weather hasn’t been cooperating.”
Recruits are housed at the Albert Head camp. Some training is done off site, such as firearms practice at the Victoria Fish and Game Protective Association shooting range off the Malahat.
Beginning with firearms, the recruits are trained to the level of a peace officer and beyond, said Jack Herrigan, head instructor for the firearms working group and Manitoba representative on the WCLEA board.
“Of the three firearms we’re instructing, the pistol or hand gun is the one where skills are hardest to acquire,” he said.
Officers also learn use-of-force defensive tactics, emergency vehicle operation, predator response and problem wildlife response, cross-cultural awareness, ceremonial drill, emergency survival and swift-water rescue techniques.
“We are considered a Tier 1 law enforcement agency,” Kondas said. “We hold police powers under the police act and can enforce criminal code legislation, but we are bound by our mandate.”
Depending on the situation, officers could respond to wildlife interactions such as a bear or cougar mauling or the RCMP could call officers out to investigate poaching, all which requires weapons training, Kondas said.
Our officers also check for compliance for things such as open burning, hunting or fishing, and if they observe a violation, they would ask for identification.
“If the person refuses or continues the behaviour, they are arrest-able,” Kondas said.
To anonymously report known or suspected violations of fisheries, wildlife or environmental protection laws, call the Report All Poachers and Polluters line: 1-877 952-7277
For information on the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, go to: www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos.