By Adam Randell
The plan to centralize the two Fish and Wildlife Enforcement offices - Port Saunders and Roddickton - in Brig Bay, leaving just one office for the entire Northern Peninsula, hasn't been finalized according to the Department of Justice.
However, in late January, Roddickton officers were instructed to remove their equipment and storage items from the town's DFO location.
Several attempts were made to try and contact Justice minister Darin King over the last two weeks but the Northern Pen was unable to arrange an interview.
But it hasn't stopped people from voicing their concerns about the consolidation.
Roddickton-Bide Arm resident Earl Pilgrim understands the need to maintain the two offices more than anyone.
Pilgrim, now known for his writing, was a game warden with the Wildlife Division for 32 years.
In 1970 he worked along side Dr. Thomas to build moose and caribou herds on the Northern Peninsula.
"We brought in eight moose and set them loose on country road (between Plum Point and Roddickton). Then we went up to the Hooping Harbour and Harbour Deep area and drove the moose we could find down to Cloud River in the winter," Pilgrim said. "Then the numbers started to increase, and as it went we would protect what we had. Within 10 years we opened seasons.
"The moose got so plentiful up on the country we had to open the season to 10 winter hunts."
Similar success was experienced in introducing caribou as well.
Pilgrim remembers the first licensed hunt for the Roddickton area opened with just 10 licenses, which over time grew to 7,000 licenses for the Peninsula.
In return, he said, it's created a multi-million dollar spinoff for the Peninsula benefitting everything from gas stations to outfitters.
Now news that there will be one central office has him discouraged.
Can’t be about the money
"In most cases something like this is done to save money, but I don't see where that will take place," Pilgrim said. "Enforcement has a rent free building in Roddickton, and my understanding is they are looking at renting a Brig Bay office on a 10 year contract of $800,000."
Aside from the money problems, the retired game warden is foreseeing major issues ahead when it comes to patrolling.
Pilgrim said the current officers have established themselves around the current locations, meaning they would have to take an hour's drive to and from work every day.
And when dealing with serious matters, that's just not suitable.
As an example of what the new office would mean for travel, Pilgrim stated what an officer would have to do should they receive a salmon poaching complaint in isolated Hooping Harbour.
He said the officer would have to travel an hour to Plum Point, attach a boat, drive back an hour, launch the boat and steam to Hooping Harbour, then haul the boat up and drive back to Plum Point.
'When dealing with poaching complaints time is of the essence," he said. "The amount of time it would take to get there from the new location, the net could be hauled up and gone with the salmon cooked and eat."
Between Main Brook and Harbour Deep, Pilgrim says there are 10 salmon rivers and some 500 kms of forest access roads - that's just one patrol area.
"To consolidate everything into one office for the entire Northern Peninsula isn't right," he said. ""Somebody apparently is feeding the minister information that don't make sense."
Needed more than ever
It's no secret that moose populations have been in decline around the Northern Peninsula and the province in general.
Now, says Pilgrim, is when Fish and Wildlife is needed more than ever.
With licenses issued in decline, Pilgrim said people might feel more inclined to take a moose illegally. But on the ground enforcement is a strong deterrent.
"It's like if someone was going to break into a store, if they police parked in the store parking lot, there's a good chance they aren't going to break into the building, it's the same thing for poaching," he said.
If the move goes through, Pilgrim is predicting hard roads ahead for moose and caribou populations.
"Poaching will increase tremendously with the officers moved out of the area and it doesn't matter who says it won't," he said. "We've had great success in bringing a strong population to the Northern Peninsula as a result of the game wardens, and now talks of transferring it out is discouraging."
Roddickton-Bide Arm mayor Sheila Fitzgerald is siding with Pilgrim.
"Here we are the self-proclaimed 'Moose Capital of the World', in the middle of moose country, and they are talking about moving the detachment out of the area, it just don't make sense," Fitzgerald said. "In terms of the town, delivery of the service is our concern... because through tourism we are asking people to come fish our waters, hunt in our forest, but moving enforcement so far away it opens the area up to potential poaching, then that becomes a major economic concern for us."
She said the town wrote a letter to the Department of Justice outlining their concerns about the move, but hasn't received a response.