The number of conservation officers in the Nelson area has doubled. In October, the Conservation Officer Service hired Nathan Smienk as the second conservation officer serving out of the Nelson office.
Born and raised in Nelson, Smienk said he’s happy to be back in his home-town after spending the last six years working as a conservation officer in Fort Nelson. Smienk said the Ministry of Environment moved a position to Nelson.
“It’s safer for one thing, to have two officers,” said Smienk. “But they moved a position to Nelson because there is enough work for two [full-time conservation] officers.”
Prior to becoming an officer seven years ago, Smienk was a banker.
“Being a [conservation officer] was something I had always wanted to do. I worked in banks all my life and it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I left.”
And since returning to Nelson last fall, he said, “The smile doesn’t leave my face. My whole family is here.”
The job itself has some differences, the big one being a higher population density in the West Kootenay which lends itself to a higher rate of human and wildlife issues. Another difference from Ft. Nelson, according to Smienk, is it’s busier year round in the West Kootenay.
“People go outside in the winter here. [In Fort Nelson] it was minus 38 last year.”
“Also fisheries with a big lake. There are more people here, it’s just going to be different. There’s going to be more human/ wildlife interaction because of the population density.”
The area he and fellow officer Jason Hawkes cover spans to South Slocan, all the way to Trout Lake, and they help out on the East Shore, with Creston, and Castlegar on occasion.
He said while the nature of the calls they receive are “all over the place”, they do have seasonal themes. In the spring the bears are coming out of hibernation, then the fisheries begin with people on the lake. He said they get everything in summer when there are more people due to tourism. In the fall bears are trying to pack on the weight, and it’s hunting season. And there are pollution/spill reports any time of the year.
As far as the four cougars destroyed earlier this week that were frequenting the Grohman Narrows to Four Mile area, Smienk said that is an example of public safety, which is their top-mandate.
“We’ve monitor those cougars since December,” he said adding it was a family group. Cougars are normally solitary animals but it was a mom with three juveniles, which were adult size as the young were embarking on the 18 month mark, which is usually when they begin to leave their mother.
He explained the cougars were displaying behaviors that were a cause for concern such as being on someone’s roof, looking in through peoples windows during the day, eating house cats, and going under buildings.
“We have to deal with the public safety, we don’t just arbitrarily do it, there’s a lot of thought that goes in to it.”
As to the old question if garbage is a problem, he said “Garbage is an attractant, especially with bears and coyotes. They become habituated and we have a problem.”
He emphasized the importance of the public calling the Report All Polluters and Poachers (RAPP) line.
“We depend on information from the public,” he said. “There is only so much we can do with just the two of us here.”
Even if a caller does not get a phone call back from a conservation officer after a report, Smienk wants to assure people that they are following up each report. “We follow up with all of the reports of wildlife in one form or another,” he said.
Call the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277 immediately if you have an issue with wildlife.