Rob Kaye loved having a dangerous job.
“I’m amazed that I’m still alive,” says the retired park warden (Biological Sciences Technology – Environmental Sciences ’76).
His commitment to the environment and passion for the backcountry warden service are the focus of his recently self-published memoir, Born to the Wild: Journals of a National Park Warden in the Canadian Rockies. Among memories of his childhood and his 12 years – 1977 to 1989 – as a park warden in Jasper National Park, Kaye raises concerns about cutbacks to park staff and our ability to preserve our national parks.
Kaye feels privileged to have been a backcountry warden even though his job included facing raging rivers, snowstorms, getting bucked from a horse and unexpected wildlife encounters, such as an angry moose. It was a time before wardens carried cellphones or even handheld radios, leaving Kaye truly on his own.
“It is a very unique occupation that is dying."
"It's very dangerous but that's why I enjoyed it."
“It’s very dangerous but that’s why I enjoyed it,” says Kaye, now 60, who retired in 2010 after 33 years with Parks Canada (finishing at Elk Island National Park).
The romantic image of the lone park warden riding over the crest of a remote mountain, keeping watch, is now rare. In his book, Kaye captures the history of Jasper’s warden service, including the 2013 decision to no longer assign dedicated backcountry warden positions, driven by reduced funding.
“It is a very unique occupation that is dying. We don’t have that backcountry presence any longer,” says Kaye, who now lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. With reduced funds, parks staffing is centred around “the front country where most of the people are,” he adds.
During his career, the self-described environmentalist saw himself as a “guardian of the parks” and says cutbacks have challenged efforts to monitor species-at-risk programs, ecological changes in remote areas, wildlife and vegetation restoration, and wildlife-human conflict management.
Some of the change has been positive. Kaye recalls growing up in Jasper during a time when bears freely foraged garbage at the dump and in back alleys in town. Those days of ignoring bear habituation to human food are mostly gone, thanks largely to the efforts of park staff.
“We’ve come a long way,” he says.
But is it far enough? With the changing role of the park warden, Kaye felt compelled to record the way things were in hopes of having a positive impact on the future. “Those stories are going to be gone because hardly anyone’s out there anymore. I wanted to record some history.”
After 33 years of working in our national parks, he says his purpose was clear.
“At the end of the day, when I retired, I was working for the environment.”