VANCOUVER ISLAND (NEWS1130) – An environmental group is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who helps identify the people who chopped down an 800-year-old tree on Vancouver Island.

The Wilderness Committee says it’s offering up the money because it doesn’t have much confidence BC Parks rangers will catch the perpetrators.

“We are just so concerned about the fact that we only have 10 full time park rangers, so poachers feel they can go into our provincial parks and cut down 800-year-old cedars and not get caught. We were hoping the provincial government would have shown some leadership on this issue, but they haven’t,” explains the committee’s Gwen Barlee.

And she says there are so few rangers, there’s no way of knowing how big a problem tree poaching is.

The giant red cedar in the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park was hacked at last year. When park rangers came upon it they decided, for safety reasons, to chop it down. But poachers have returned to steal the wood.

Meanwhile, Barlee is blaming a lack of parks funding for lacklustre visitor numbers. For the last six years, BC Parks visits have kept steady at 19 million visitors a year, despite a growing population. Barlee points out there were 25 million visits in 1999.

“Unfortunately, we are doing something wrong in BC with our parks system. What the government has to do is say ‘yes our parks are important and yes they need to be properly funded.’”

She says the funding shortage has come at the expense of interpretive programs and staffing levels.

Just this past week, the Ministry of Environment announced an additional $3 million in parks funding, a 27 per cent increase over last year. It says with that money day-use facilities and water systems will be upgraded.

The government is hoping visits will increase. Last year, it removed parking meters at provincial parks.