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Scientists slam Nelson office closure

By Greg Nesteroff, Nelson Star, November 28, 2011

More than 40 scientists and land management professionals have signed a letter to BC Hydro​ protesting the closure of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program’s Nelson office.

The letter, dated November 19, and carbon copied to a variety of MLAs, urges Hydro to change its mind about shutting the office, which is expected to take place by the end of January, putting several people out of work.

The closure is in response to a government-commissioned panel that suggested Hydro should reduce staff rather than increase rates. The Crown corporation says fish and wildlife programs will continue to be delivered, but will rely more heavily on community groups to carry out the work.

However, the signatories to the letter — who include biologists, foresters, geologists and agrologists — say they have grave concerns about the cuts.

“Most of our group has worked with various members of the staff of the [program],” the letter reads. “We have found the role played by those staff has been essential to accomplishing the goals and legal requirements of compensating for the impacts of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin.”

The letter further states that many compensation projects “would not have been as effective (or in some cases even possible) without local scientific staff.”

“These roles bring compensation benefits well beyond those that accrue from one-off

projects funded from a distance. Loss of these vital roles will compromise a wide range of basin-based initiatives and their associated benefits,” the letter says.

The signatories also note many among them are consultants who could potentially benefit from a shift from long-term staff to more contract work, “However, we are unanimous in rejecting this approach, as it is not in the best interests of the compensation program’s objectives.”

They say longterm scientific staff are “an essential element” of the program, and provide “continuity and co-ordination” for contracted projects, as well as technical assistance. They further argue closing the Nelson office will do “serious damage” to the program with no apparent cost savings or benefit.

“It is very unusual to get scientists to speak out on anything, but in this case they are unanimous in recognizing the foolishness of this move by Hydro,” says Greg Utzig, one of the signatories. “Since the letter has been sent, more and more scientists keep coming forward wanting to add their names.”

In addition, Utzig says about a dozen others who are BC government employees have endorsed the letter but chosen to remain anonymous.

He adds the office closure comes at an “interesting time,” since negotiations around the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty are beginning, along with renewed discussions about the Site C dam on the Peace River.

The compensation program, established to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat affected by BC Hydro dams, is also laying off staff in Prince George.

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