Quebec's wildlife protection agents, an 'endangered species'

·3 min read
Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP) has seen a drop in wildlife protection officers in the past decade. (Radio-Canada/Boualem Hadjouti)   ( - image credit)
Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP) has seen a drop in wildlife protection officers in the past decade. (Radio-Canada/Boualem Hadjouti) ( - image credit)

The Quebec government hasn't trained or hired new wildlife protection officers for nearly two years and doesn't plan to do so until next fall at the earliest.

With staff numbers in decline for years, Martin Perreault, president of the Quebec Wildlife Conservation Employees' Union (SAPFQ), worries about the lack of personnel to monitor the territory properly.

"We have to start training again," Perreault said. "[The consequence], will be that current agents will be overloaded."

Officers of the Protection de la faune du Québec (PFQ) are responsible for enforcing the law, encouraging best wildlife harvesting practices, protecting habitats and preventing poaching.

But there are fewer officers to fulfil the PFQ's mandate.

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP), they were only 331 in 2019-2020. In 2011, the force had more than 420 wildlife protection officers.

New training centre, no trainees

Downsizing has continued despite the construction of a new training centre in Duchesnay, just northwest of Quebec City. Inaugurated in 2018, the Le Cerf pavilion was built by the previous Liberal government, costing $6.5 million.

All new recruits must undergo training at Duchesnay, but it's barely been used since its opening. The MFFP confirms that no new cohort has graduated since June of 2019.

"From June 2019 to winter 2020, the training centre was used to provide continuing education to officers already in employment," a spokesperson for the MFFP wrote in an email to Radio-Canada. "Online training isn't an option for most of the skills they would need to acquire."

The next cohort could stay at Duchesnay in September, according to the MFFP. A government competition was opened on Feb. 8, but everything will depend on how the health crisis evolves. The mandatory course includes learning specific investigation techniques to combat poaching, as well as firearm safety training.

While the MFFP maintains the COVID-19 pandemic's interruption of meal services delayed training recruits at the centre, the union believes the ministry could have arranged to train fewer agents rather than none.

"I understand there's COVID, but our centre is new. It is made for cohorts of 24 to 28 people," Perreault said.

Training selected candidates takes 15 weeks and involves them staying at the Duchesnay . Perreault says it would have been possible to welcome a dozen agents while following public health guidelines.

'Dismantling the force'

Parti Québécois MNA Sylvain Roy, denounced 'dismantling the [wildlife protection] force' at a news conference on Friday.

Roy is asking the MFFP to resume training new cohorts and increase the number of wildlife protection officers to above 400.

"All of this shows the ministry's flagrant disregard of Quebec's wildlife sector," he said.

Given that many Quebecers visit the backcountry during the pandemic, Roy shared his concerns about the development of poaching networks and the monitoring of wildlife harvesting activities (hunting, fishing, trapping) if new officers aren't hired.

"It takes agents in the forest to control behavior and raise awareness," he said, asking the government to do its part to protect "this collective heritage."