To blame funding cuts for the high-profile poaching of an 800 Year-old Western red cedar this month is something of a stretch, but the incident nonetheless serves neatly as a metaphor for our government's approach to the environment.
Critics of the B.C. Liberals have said the three-metre-wide giant was stolen from Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park because the rangers who should have protected it were dismissed. The reality is that in a wilderness the size of British Columbia's, no number of park staff could defend every tree from determined poachers; however, the event still says something important about what happens when those who would damage our environment can act with impunity.
In lean times, government environmental programs are among the first things to go. They're an easy mark, politically, because the consequences aren't immediately obvious. This is happening at the provincial and federal levels right now, with institutions that monitor water, air, fisheries and other vital aspects of our environment facing severe cutbacks, even while flashier but less important programs - jets and new prisons come to mind - are preserved.
The results can be severe, ranging from the collapse of fisheries to the wholesale destruction of vital habitat but, as with the poaching of a cedar, the problems won't come to public attention until it's too late.
Our leaders have to start treating environmental regulation and enforcement with the same gravity they view higher-profile programs, or one day we will wake up to find we have lost a great deal more than a tree.