A complaint has been laid about the way a Conservation Officer handled a bear on the loose at the Discovery Harbour Marina on Sept. 8.
Gosia Bryja, who filed a Conservation Officer complaint form on Sept. 15 and sent a copy of it to the Campbell River Mirror, said the situation could have been handled in a non-lethal way.
“I strongly believe that close cooperation with the public would have been the key to resolve the situation,” Bryja said.
On Friday, Sept. 8, a “medium-sized” black bear was first spotted on the marina breakwater in the morning, looking tired, leading to speculation that it might have been swimming in Discovery Passage, perhaps even trying to cross to Quadra Island. But sometime later, the bear got up and swam to the dock at the Discovery Harbour Marina and began running up and down the quays, becoming increasingly agitated, Conservation Officer Sgt. Mike Newton said.
Newton said the bear was getting increasingly annoyed with Sgt. Newton following him, and became very aggressive to the Conservation Officer. In the interest of public safety, Sgt. Newton said he elected to put the bear down.
Bryja, an environmental scientist and wildlife conservationist, disagrees that the bear needed to be shot.
“Video evidence, however, is not consistent with Officer Mike Newton’s suggestion that the bear was ‘very aggressive,’” she says in her complaint. “I participated in various research projects related to habitat use and behaviour of black bears. I spent a lot of time observing and interacting with black bears in diverse situations and environments.
“In this specific case, while watching the video footage, I could clearly see that the bear’s body movement was showing no signs of threatening or aggressive behaviour but rather, signs of confusion.”
The bear was lost, stressed out and looking for a way out, Bryja says. “Media reports also suggest that the bear looked tired. If Officer Mike Newton had been properly trained in bear behaviour, he should have been able to get the bear off the docks and escort him to a safe place away from the public. He should have also requested a back up. Still, no real attempts were made to help the bear get out of this stressful situation.”
Bryja said she is filing the complaint because she believes the Standards of Counduct for BC Public Service were violated. She adds that she believes the animal was killed unnecessarily, bringing the government into disrepute. She also expresses concern that a firearm was discharged within a community when other options were available.
When contacted by the Mirror about the complaint, a statement from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy was issued, saying it would be inappropriate for the COS to comment on open public complaints regarding the quality of the organization’s service to the community or its administrative or operational policies and procedures.
Last month, it was reported that there has been a significant increase in the number of black bear conflict reports in British Columbia compared to last year. Chris Doyle, the deputy chief with B.C. Conservation Officer Services, told Black Press that black bear-related calls have nearly doubled this year over last year in the province.
He said 8,900 black bear conflict reports have been issued to the COS since April 1, compared to 4,900 in the same time last year.
The increase comes almost a year after the province removed long-distance translocation of a wild animal as a preferred method of deterring them from human interaction.
Bryja said the CO in the Sept. 8 Campbell River situation could have diffused the situation that had the bear feeling cornered and stressed out. He should have asked the bystanders to stay calm and slowly back away, giving the bear some space. Then, he could focus on the bear and calm it down by talking softly to it.
“Once feeling safe, the bear would have left the place in peace,” Bryja said. “However, the bear felt danger because of the officer’s threatening body language which, in all likelihood, led to the unfortunate outcome.”
– with files from the Comox Valley Record