Province orders Boreal Centre to close in the winter, cuts funding in half
Unless the provincial government changes its mind, the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation (BCBC) has to close its doors at the end of September. Under the new plan, expressed in a letter to the BCBC board, it will stay that way until April, when it can re-open. Provincial funding for the facility in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park will be cut in half.
Not surprisingly, this news is not going over well with the board, employees and supporters of the BCBC and its programs. Last week executive director Patti Campsall made a plea to the M.D. council for help in lobbying the government to change its mind.
She got plenty of sympathy around the council table. Councillor Darcie Acton said the closure would have “direct and collateral negative impacts, on multiple groups. “Everything’s going well,” she said, “and all of a sudden for a $35,000 cost saving, the Alberta Government seems prepared to (devastate) that.”
Campsall went on to list the benefits to the community of the programs the Boreal Centre – in collaboration with the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory (LSLBO) and the Lesser Slave Forest Education Society – for students from classes all across the region. That’s mainly a winter months’ thing – something that schools love and take full advantage of, she said. Having year-round programming allows for full-time, knowledgeable staff. Finding people to work a shorter season would be very tough, and the quality of the programs would suffer.
The total operational budget for the Boreal Centre varies from year to year, Campsall told council; but the provincial contribution of $70,000 typically amounts to 25 to 35 per cent of it. A large component comes through fundraising and arrangements with partners, such as in the forest industry.
The situation right now is the facility has got its marching orders from Alberta Environment and Parks. So as things stand it has to go ahead with re-doing its lease and closing to the public for six months over the winter. Unless the government changes its mind, that is, which some councillors think is possible. The lobbying effort had already begun.
“We met with the MLA last week,” said reeve Murray Kerik. “Councillor Acton made a really good case. He seems to understand.”
On paper, the prospects look bleak. Included in council’s agenda package was the letter bearing the bad news from the Environment & Parks regional office.
“The purpose of this correspondence is to formally let you know that the BCBC will close to the public on or about September 30, 2020,” it says, “and remain closed until April 2021.”
The letter, addressed to LSLBO Chair Bob Deacon, goes on to say the BCBC can be used as office space for Parks and LSLBO staff during the winter, and staff housing will continue to be available.
Campsall made a good case for the facility to remain open, and council seemed to buy it, promising to continue the advocacy effort. Councillor Brad Pearson pointed out that such amenities can make a difference between families deciding to move here or stay here, or not.
“It’s a facility we’re all proud of,” said councillor Brian Rosche. He asked Campsall if the COVID pandemic might be a factor in how busy the BCBC was or would be.
“I think it’s going to be even busier,” she said, referring specifically to the snowshoeing and cross-country skiing that are offered in the winter.
Acton: “We need to write a letter to (Parks) in opposition to the changes, and we need to meet with the minister.” She made a motion to that effect, which was passed.