Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant has been suspended without pay pending a performance investigation after he refused to put down two bear cubs this weekend.
The baby bears, a brother and sister, were orphaned after their mother was put down after she had, at least twice, broken into a freezer of salmon and deer meat inside a mobile home on Hardy Bay Road. Cassavant stressed the sow’s actions were at no fault of the property owner.
“Although it is unlikely the mother (and cubs) was in town due to the fire, it is hard to know,” said Casavant.
On July 5, Casavant and members of the Port Hardy Fire Department literally pulled out all stops to rescue the babies who had come back to the property and were up a tree calling for their dead mother.
“They (firefighters) had their high-angle rescue specialist scale the tree and rappel down on top of the bears to lower them to me. I then tranquilized them by hand,” said Casavant.
The babies were estimated to be about eight weeks and weigh 20 to 25 pounds, are healthy and still nursing.
“We were there for a couple hours,” Casavant said.
“It’s immoral to shoot a helpless baby bear, they are nursing still. They are not garbage bears. They are infants,” said Rob Hodder, the owner of the mobile home.
“I have an Aboriginal background and deem them to be a sacred animal to our people and I want them to be saved,” Fodder said.
After their capture, the babies were transported to the Port Hardy Veterinary Hospital for a health assessment and containment.
Casavant then made the decision to transport the bears down Island to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association facility in Errington, as per provincial policy regarding bear cubs, despite an order that they be destroyed.
“I think it is important for the community to know that I am here to do the right thing,” said Casavant.
“There’s a lot of controversy there right now, isn’t there,” said Recovery Association Wildlife Manager and Founder Robin Campbell, who is now housing the two youngsters.
“The Ministry has decided to have us care for them at this point,” said Campbell, until an investigation is done.
The controversy occurred after the Ministry of Environment received conflicting reports, one that said the cubs were eating garbage and another which said that was not the case.
Because they were reported to be eating garbage, the cubs were ordered destroyed.
If that account is true, said Campbell, the cubs would indeed need to be destroyed “because they would remember and they could become very dangerous for people’s safety.”
However, if the alternative is true based on information “the man on the ground” (Casavant) who would have “the most accurate information” received after interviewing the people involved, the cubs would be candidates for rehabilitation and relocation, Campbell said.
The cubs are currently being housed in a room next to some other cubs at the centre and have been marked with a bit of paint to identify them.
“If there is any negative behaviour we will be able to see it,” Campbell said, adding that the Ministry “was only acting on information that was initially given to them.
“They go out of their way to bring us bears,” Campbell said.
Statements by Bryce Casavant were made to the Gazette prior to him being suspended.
“We do not comment on personnel matters publicly due to privacy and confidentiality reasons,” said Gordon Hitchcock, inspector in charge of the West Coast Region.