Has the provincial government just confirmed that North Island Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant did the right thing when he refused an order to kill two tiny bear cubs last year?
“I don’t know if I would characterize it as that,” said a Ministry of Environment spokesperson. “A review of the provincial procedure ‘Preventing and Responding to Conflicts with Large Carnivores’ began in early 2015, prior to the July 15 incident regarding orphaned bears on the North Island, and was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and the COS,” the spokesperson said.
“The updated procedures provide more information for officers, who must still make these decisions in the field based on criteria on what makes a bear a good candidate for rehabilitation or not,” he said.
As a result of the review, the Ministry has issued new guidelines on how COs should exercise discretion in the field when deciding to kill or spare the lives of bears and other large carnivores that come into conflict with humans.
The guidelines say that consideration should be given to the rearing and release of orphaned black bear cubs that are considered suitable candidates – meaning they must not display high levels of habituation to humans or be conditioned to human food sources.
The guidelines say there are many variables that can influence the response to conflicts with large carnivores and officer discretion is not superseded by policy or procedure. Officers have the option of contacting a wildlife vet or regional biologist if they require further clarification. Only young of the year are candidates for rehabilitation. Orphaned yearling black bears will be left in the wild.
Bears will only be relocated short distances from where they are found if there is no or very limited indication of food conditioning or aggressiveness, and where the bears in question are healthy and do not require parental care in order to survive.
Bears that are released will be fitted with an ear tag, electronic tag, tattoo (lip and groin), and preferably a transmitter.
The new policies follow the international controversy last July when Casavant was suspended, and subsequently transferred to Forestry, after he refused a superior’s order to kill the two cubs in Port Hardy – nicknamed Jordan and Athena. The cubs who have been growing and thriving at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association centre in Errington, are set to be released this summer.
“We are still talking with the Ministry about the release schedule for all eight of our bear cubs, so I don’t have a date as of yet,” said Centre Manager Julie Mackey. “The two from Hardy will be fitted with GPS collars prior to release which is something that we agreed to with the Ministry,” Mackey said. “We don’t have the cost of the collars at this point, but have agreed to pay for them,” she said. “The Ministry veterinarian and biologists will be putting the collars on the bears and likely Conservation Officers will be transporting the cubs to their release sites as usual,” she said.