Ottawa is set to trim the number of habitat management programs across Canada from 63 to 15, eliminating more than 130 jobs, representatives of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) told CBC News.
On Tuesday, the department responded with a written response to CBC News confirming that 130 positions will be lost.
"This does not necessarily mean that they will lose their job; they may be asked to relocate or be redeployed within the department or government," Kevin Hill, director of communications said, adding that no fisheries officers will lose their jobs.
Hill also said there has been no final decision on office closures.
But Marianne Hladun, who speaks for PSAC, said the only offices remaining in the Prairie region will be in Edmonton and Winnipeg.
“It’s going to be too late. By the time this government realizes they've made a mistake, they could seriously damage the environment, the ecosystem, to a point of no return,” Hladun said.
The programs were established to protect fish habitat and monitor industrial development on or near water.
Hill said the changes are a result of a new direction the department is taking due to changes in the Fisheries Act.
"DFO is transforming the way in which we deliver our Habitat Management Program across the country to increase efficiency and focus on priorities that matter to Canadians," Hill said.
The department also said it will work with stakeholders and partners to develop regulations, policies, and other tools needed to implement the changes.
Conservationists say the cuts are just the latest in sweeping changes that effectively take the teeth out of fish habitat protection under the Fisheries Act.
Bill Donahue, director of science and policy for Water Matters — a watershed protection organization — said developments such as the oilsands might not be adequately addressed as a result of the cuts.
“It’s a step backwards. It's foolish and it seems as if it's an admission that they really aren't interested in making informed decisions when it comes to environmental management,” Donahue said.
There is no word on when the programs will be shut down.