There are new boots on the ground in the region's backcountry.
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service has added two newly minted COs to the Prince George office, both freshly graduated from their training and both eager to learn the nuances of this area's wilderness.
Dan Echstadter, 28, has plenty of experience in the region. Raised in Smithers, he is a graduate of UNBC with a degree in psychology.
Craig McCulloch, 28, comes from Campbell River and attended Vancouver Island University so this is his first northern exposure but hardly his first venture into the woods. Like Echstadter, he chose this profession based on a lifetime of outdoor adventure.
"It's been a childhood dream to be a CO," said McCulloch. "The Comox Valley is a pretty outdoorsy place. Dan Dwyer was a well-known CO down there and he was like a second dad to me - pushing me, guiding me, and playing on the interests I showed for being out in the outdoors."
"I didn't realize what I really wanted until part way through university," said Echstadter. "I realized this could put together my recreational hobbies with a good career."
Putting on the badge and gun of a CO is not an easy goal to attain. Many apply, but few are chosen for the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy (the western provinces and territories combine to operate this training facility in Hinton, Alberta). Even fewer graduate and fewer still are assigned to northern B.C.
"Usually we get two or three new COs in B.C. each year, out of about 500 applications," said Prince George-region's chief superintendent Doug Forsdick. "This was an extraordinary year - we had 10 graduate into B.C. and we got two for this region. It's the first time in years that we now have a full compliment of field staff."
The two rookies now get several months of direct mentorship with some of the veteran COs stationed at the Prince George office.
"We will get them as many and as varied a set of experiences as we can," said Forsdick. They have to become familiar with the terrain of the area and the diversity of duties they will perform. The COs also cross professional paths with other law enforcement agencies so they'll need to become familiar with those officers, as well.
Acting Insp. Rory Smith said the new blood was invigorating for all the uniformed and plainclothed staff at regional headquarters.
"There are things that always fall off the table when you are short-staffed, so now we can connect better on a lot of those things," Smith said. "There is no substitute for presence in the field."
Forsdick agreed, pointing to a targeted enforcement regime in a rural northern community that had seen little previous attention from COs.
"We never write so much paper," he said, of the constant wildlife, fishing and environmental infractions they came across. "One year later, this year, we went back there again. One ticket. One. There was no compliance before because there was no enforcement, and it all came together just like that. We need to be out there meeting people, talking about infractions, acting on infractions, so there is an understanding in the public that we do care and we are there and things will be done to correct any problems."
The two rookies had been in Prince George less than a full day when the veteran COs took them to a meeting of the local trappers' association.
"Connecting with those groups is a priority, because they are the people who are out encountering issues in the bush all over the region more than any other - the trappers, the hunters, the hikers, the skiers and snowmobilers. Yes, they can be the ones causing the problems, but most often it is them who want the problems stopped and want us to do something about it, and understand what's going on out in the field," said Forsdick. "They are the ones being proactive in their area and we must be proactive with them. It really is in everyone's best interests. We want these new guys to get involved in that right away."
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