It’s a fish tale with a happy ending – at least for another year.
The federal department of Fisheries and Oceans recently reversed a decision to cut funding to a number of programs that would potentially have longtime, detrimental effects on salmon habitat.
“It’s still a good story,” says environmental educator Kim Fulton, who was very vocal in his condemnation last week. “But now with the twist of how the citizens who know the value of this program were able to influence government.”
Local environmentalists and educators were dumbfounded and angered by last week’s surprise announcement that Fisheries had slashed funding to Stream to Sea contracts (education co-ordinators who facilitate raising salmon in the classrooms and the deep learning that goes with it), the Resource Restoration unit, steelhead and trout enhancement at federal facilities and technical assistance contracts.
Education support contracts cost about $400,000 per year, about 0.2 per cent of the department’s annual budget. The Stream to Sea program reaches about 35,000 students across the Pacific Region. About one half of B.C.’s population has participated in a classroom salmon incubation project.
“In my view, after 35 plus years involved in these exemplary programs it is very shortsighted and in fact ridiculous to cut them.”
Fulton, a teacher for 32 years, continues to teach children in School District #83 and #22 by leading programs and projects through Wild B.C., a branch of the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and the Salmon Arm Bay Nature Enhancement Society.
“School District #83 and #22 are very active and thousands of kids have participated and continue to participate in this program,” said Fulton, noting one already knowledgeable Grade 1 student recently expressed excitement about getting eggs in the classroom next year. “How do I tell this kid they’re not getting eggs next year?”
Fulton says quite often adults approach him to say they remember releasing their salmon into one of the local rivers as a highlight of their education.
“It’s more than just salmon, it helps kids develop a broader stewardship ethic, which helps create projects that support all kinds of fish and wildlife and ecosystems,” Fulton said.
An indignant Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson took exception to the fact it appeared an infusion of federal funds to the Coast Guard and salmonid protection on the Coast was made at the expense of inland fisheries and salmon habitat.
“Lifting protection of streams opens it up to mining and forestry,” she said, noting First Nations have underlying title to the land and resources. “If they abdicate, our laws will be there and they are more holistic.”
Equally alarmed, North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold was planning to create a petition that he would take to the House of Commons.
Conservative deputy critic for Fisheries Oceans and Canada’s Coast Guard, a two-term past president of the BC Wildlife Federation, past president of four years with the local Fish and Game Club and member for more than 20, Arnold called the cuts unconscionable.
“These programs have been in place for decades; we have biologists who got their first glimpse of salmon in the school program,” he said. “Last fall we worked with DFO staff employed through the salmon enhancement program at the Salmon River, helping those fish get up the river. Fisheries biologists helped guide a dozen or more volunteers to do that work and far less costly than government could have done.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Regional staff were informed June 3 that the department will undertake contracts to provide education and technical support for Community Involvement Program activities including the Stream to Sea education program for the next fiscal year – Aug. 1 to July 31, 2018.