Public trust in conservation officers eroding in wake of bear killings: group

May 31 2019, 5:23 am

A BC conservation group is calling for change in black bear management following “numerous reports” recently of bruins being destroyed by conservation officers due to human activity — which it said appears to be eroding public trust in the ministry responsible.

Fur-Bearers Spokesperson Michael Howie told Daily Hive now that it’s spring, it’s not surprising that communities are seeing bears, “and sadly it’s not surprising to anyone that the Conservation Officer Service is killing bears — you know, as can be noted statistically that goes up and down, based on a variety of factors, so one year there may be fewer but that’s very simply because there’s a better crop of whatever food sources available at the time of year for bears — thus reducing the conflict levels.”

While this month’s human-conflict numbers are not posted yet on the Ministry of Environment’s website, it shows the number of black bears destroyed last May was 54 that month alone, and 99 in May 2017 — more than a 100 per cent increase during that same time period the year before with 43.

Howie said every year people are aware that attractants, such as garbage, pet food and barbecues, will bring bears closer to people — then raising concerns, “and we know that when the Conservation Officer Service attends a scene such as this, they frequently, according to media reports, will kill the bear stating that they’re habituated, which is an extremely generalized term.”

“So what we’re asking is are we ready to change? Effectively, are we ready to say ‘this is not good enough anymore — and we can do better?'” Howie said.

“Killing a bear is not changing the situation, killing a bear is challenging the system of a large problem.”

Howie said it appears the public is also calling for change, adding that some communities are pushing to be “no-kill zones” and the group says it has seen comments by individuals sharing that they want to see co-existing solutions and prevention prioritized — and “fear” of conservation officers killing bears, and other wildlife, is preventing the public from reaching out to the frontline law enforcement agency.

Public feedback about bears (Fur Bearers)

Howie said the group is now calling on the public to take action by going to its website for three “simple” changes to government policy:

  1. That conservation officers be directed to show preventative measures, fines and other educational tools are utilized prior to lethal measures and that third-party oversight be put into place to review and advise the actions of armed law enforcement agents.
  2. That funding be made available to any municipality to increase by-law enforcement activities, specifically related to wildlife feeding and attractants.
  3. That both the RAPP line and by-law enforcement departments begin accepting anonymous information regarding by-law or provincial infractions that put wildlife and people at risk.

Howie said all three of these points work in conjunction with each other, “they’re all aspects that treat the same problem and the problem is attractant management and how we then respond to it — it is wrong to call this a bear issue, it is correct to call this an attractant issue and a political issue, and even a sociological issue — the bears are just responding to the world we created for them.”

The COS said maintaining public trust and confidence is important to it, and it has a “high level” of support among stakeholders and with the public in the communities it serves throughout BC.

However, the COS said it’s “not responsible for the mismanagement of attractants that cause bear conflicts. Preventing bear conflicts is the responsibility of everyone.”

The COS said it does frustrate conservation officers when poor attractant management causes bear conflicts.  It said the COS commits considerable resources to the Bear Smart Community Program, Wildsafe BC, public engagement and proactive education and enforcement to address attractant issues.

It said that public safety is “paramount.” The COS said it assesses complaints to determine risk, level of food conditioning, level of habituation, and overall condition and behaviour of the animals involved. Then with that information, the conservation officers “must act decisively to protect the public and minimize the suffering of injured animals.”

To make sure it’s making the right decisions, the COS said it has “considerable data,” procedures, and protocols to ensure it’s making the correct decisions: conservation officers in the field will engage with wildlife veterinarians, wildlife biologists and other experts “when the situation allows.”

byward market

Cynthia Kidwell/Shutterstock

It said “a system that required third-party oversight in each situation would cause unnecessary delay, which could lead to public safety concerns, further conflict and unnecessary suffering.”

Two new seasonal Wildlife Safety Response Officers have been added to the roster: a significant part of their duties will include proactive work to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

Now, the COS is reminding the public to secure attractants that lead to bear conflicts — and that this isn’t just limited to garbage.  The COS said livestock and fruit trees can be protected by electric fencing, and campers need to ensure all garbage and food is stored in bear-proof containers or food caches.

It said the public and communities need to take responsibility for managing attractants — until that happens, human-caused bear conflicts will only continue.

Howie said the impression the group gets is that “residents are unhappy and the government is not responding — there are simple solutions available that can prevent this from being the problem it is now and into the future: they are sustainable and affordable, and it will mean fewer bears are killed, it will mean that there is less conflict overall with wildlife, and frankly it will allow agencies like the COS to do other work that is also important.”

“We need political will, we need the COS to acknowledge and move forward,” said Howie.

Howie said if you’d like to take action and call for these three changes to policy, you can go to the Fur-Bearers website to fill out a letter to send to your local political representative.

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