"Not acceptable": Documents show 77 young black bears were killed in BC last year

May 18 2022, 10:31 pm

A local conservation group has made a formal complaint against the BC Conservation Officer Service and is renewing its calls for third-party oversight after obtaining Freedom of Information documents that show dozens of young black bears were killed last year.

The Fur-Bearers executive director, Lesley Fox, tells Daily Hive that a concerned resident  provided the group with these documents.

What sparked the Tri-Cities resident to pull these records, Fox said, was their concern surrounding the number of black bears being killed by the BC government.

The resident filed a Freedom of Information request, asking for a copy of all records related to bear cub and juvenile deaths in 2021, Fox said, and they received more than 400 pages of documents outlining 77 young bears were killed between January and December of that year.

“Together, we reviewed the records and it became very apparent that there are systemic problems within the BC Conservation Officer Service (BC COS) as it relates to responding to incidents involving young bears,” Fox said.

Fox said most calls were situations of a young bear in the wrong place at the wrong time, who took a wrong turn, or may have appeared in poor health, “which isn’t necessarily a death sentence, wildlife have a tendency to look scrappy, they’re wild.”

bc black bear

Susan Kehoe/Shutterstock

An incident in Terrace, involving a cub, stands out to Fox.

“A cub was found out in the bush and the officer’s narrative in their notes was that the cub may or may not have been eating a chocolate bar, and so again we have no real scientific evidence on whether or not the cub was being fed,” Fox said, “he threw a rock at the cub, and the cub didn’t respond, so he shot the cub.”

That officer had no business in attending that call, Fox argues, because she said if there was a question the cub was in poor health, a wildlife veterinarian, a biologist, or a wildlife rehabilitation expert should have been called to properly asses the animal instead.

“It’s wildly inappropriate for a CO [conservation officer] to be using their service weapon to kill an animal that’s clearly outside the scope of their authority,” states Fox.

“What we’re alleging is that the BC Conservation Officer Service, under the legislation, are police officers and on their own website they assert they are not wildlife managers,” Fox said, “the primary mandate of the BC Conservation Officer Service is enforcement and public safety as it relates typically to environmental issues.”

Fox said the water gets muddled when there are situations that don’t require a police response, for example, calls about orphaned animals that appear to be in poor health.

Fox said the BC COS is not the appropriate agency to be responding to calls related to animal health and when orphaned cub is found, and there are other agencies more appropriate to be called.

She said experts to call instead include the Ministry of Forests, because those are the wildlife managers in BC, made up of biologists and veterinarians, and experts who have the ability to properly evaluate and diagnose animals, and make the decision about whether or not euthanasia is necessary.

An orphan black bear cub named Wasabi visits the vet in Smithers, BC, as part of his care by the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter. (Nick Quenville/Omnifilm Entertainment)

An orphan black bear cub named Wasabi visits the vet in Smithers, BC, as part of his care by the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter. (Nick Quenville/Omnifilm Entertainment)

As for the complaint filed against the BC COS, Fox said it’s related to the reasonableness of use of force and they want to see clear limits on use of discretions.

“It’s not acceptable or reasonable to simply kill every young bear, that doesn’t make sense,” Fox said, “we need a different plan and a different approach to address young bears in crisis, particularly those that do not pose a risk to public safety or property.”

“There is no plan to care for young bears in this province,” Fox said, “and we need one.”

Fox said by raising these concerns through the formal complaint process, she wants to see the ministry overhaul how they respond to young bears, and differentiate what a police response and what a wildlife management, animal health, response is.

In an statement, the BC COS said “putting down any bear or cub is an unfortunate outcome that we work so hard to prevent.”

It said each wildlife situation is unique and assessed individually, taking into account ever-changing circumstances, including the risk to public safety and the animal’s ability to survive in the wild, adding, bears and cubs habituated or food conditioned to non-natural sources are not candidates for relocation or rehabilitation.

“Ministry of Forests policies and procedures help guide conservation officers with regards to the management of orphaned bear cubs, and include input from wildlife biologists, subject matter experts and the chief provincial wildlife veterinarian on specific incidents,” the COS said.

“The COS continues to work collaboratively with area officials, organizations and the public to increase awareness and education around the importance of attractant management,” it added.

The COS is also reminding British Columbians to prevent bear conflicts in communities, it’s critical they secure attractants, such as garbage, pet food, and birdseed.

Michelle MortonMichelle Morton

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