The only environmental group focused on protecting the province's threatened grasslands is itself being threatened by government cutbacks. As a result of those cutbacks, Public Eye has learned the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia has been reduced to little more than a volunteer board of directors, having recently lost all of its paid staff.
The threat of reduced government funding was foreshadowed in the 12-year-old council's August 2010 annual report. The report showed that funding weighed-in at $401,051 in fiscal 2009/10, representing 55.8 percent of the group's total revenue.
But even back then, the conservation council's chair David Zirnhelt was warning its fiscal 2010/11 financial picture was looking considerably bleaker - with the group having secured a "government-backed lifeline' package" only because of an "all-out-effort" by staff.
Now, that lifeline has run out. As a result of those cutbacks and future funding uncertainty, the council has lost every single one of its eight employees - with executive director Bob Moody being the last person out the door in mid-February.
In an interview last week with Public Eye, Mr. Zirnhelt - a rancher and former New Democrat cabinet minister - tried to put the best face on the situation, saying the conservation council will continue to soldier on as a volunteer-based organization while pursuing renewed government funding.
Nevertheless, without government funding, opposition environment critic Rob Fleming is worried the conservation council's programs - which, in the past, have identified grasslands in need of protection and produced actions plans to recover at-risk species - won't survive.
"B.C.'s grasslands are a unique ecosystem that's under threat from development and from a changing climate," said Mr. Fleming, adding they've been identified as being "worthy of achieving the highest levels of conservation and protection we can achieve."
"But here you have the government pulling any support from the people that have the expertise and are on the ground and able to do the work to accomplish that."
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the ministry of natural resource operations said no decisions have yet been made about future grants to the council.