It didn't take long for the pitchforks to come out after the news broke last week that conservation officers had killed yet another bear cub.
Among the litany of abuse hurled from behind the safety blanket of social media were the following ditties: "Conservation? I don't think so. Knee-jerk tools is more like it," one insightful Facebook user wrote.
And this one: "Soon there will be no bears left for conservation hunters to justify staying in town...That day can't come soon enough."
Then there was this sizzling hot take: "It is shameful that we cannot trust 'conservation officers' to help wildlife. This baby needed help and they murdered him instead. Evil, soul-less humans."
No matter what you think of our conservation officers — and, apparently, around these parts, that's not much — I hardly think any one of them gets into the job so they can satisfy their burning desire to slaughter innocent animals. In my three years covering this beat, I have only found conservation officers to be honest, hardworking people deeply committed to the protection of animals and the people who have chosen to live among them. These aren't trigger-happy Rambos looking for their next killshot, but public servants handcuffed by ill-informed wildlife management policies that have repeatedly and thoroughly failed their intended purpose.
Look, I get that Whistlerites are animal people. Pique has a wheelbarrow full of letters to the editor whingeing about off-leash dogs to prove that point. (Meanwhile, we've received a grand total of zero letters on the global refugee crisis and Whistler's role within it. #Priorities.) But sometimes that passion gets in the way of rational thinking.
Conservation officers are not the problem. They are simply towing the party line, and, in the rare instances they don't — like this summer when a Port Hardy officer refused to shoot a pair of orphaned cubs and got fired from his ministry for his defiance — they risk losing their livelihood.
What's more is the community's misguided perception is actually harming Whistler's bear population in the long run. The bread and butter of a conservation officer's work lies in early intervention; there are various tools at their disposal to steer a bear away from conflict. But the public's apprehension to pick up the phone and report wildlife conflict means COs are left few options by the time they're notified of a problem bear. (And yet people have no problem whipping out their smartphones when they want to snap a close-up shot of a bear on the Valley Trail for their 24 Instagram followers. #Priorities.) Of course those non-lethal intervention measures never make the headlines either, so the only time the public hears anything about a conservation officer is usually after they've just finished destroying an animal.
But if you want to direct your rage somewhere a little more useful, I'd suggest starting in Victoria. It's there you'll find those hallowed halls of provincial power where officials signed off on the Conservation Officer Service's (COS) bear matrix — used to determine the circumstances when an animal is destroyed. It's those same lawmakers who've decided an orphaned cub doesn't deserve a chance at life after its mother gets into some trash, a policy that has been "under review" for over a year. And it's those same suits that have refused to explain why there's only one rehab centre, the Critter Care Wildlife Society, authorized to accept orphaned cubs from across the entire South Coast region. It's that ignorant policy which has also led to overcrowding at the Langley facility — 32 cubs have been transported to the centre this season, well over its capacity — meaning any future orphaned cubs captured in the region will face certain death with nowhere else for them to go. It's surely not a matter of economics; The Whistler Get Bear Smart Society has offered to foot the cost of transporting cubs to and from a care facility in Smithers. So then the issue falls to political will, and there's no better way to drum up some governmental action than a little public outcry.
So the next time a bear is killed and you feel the urge to take up your torch, maybe consider instead using that flame to light a fire under Christy Clark's pantsuit-covered butt. Or better yet, take Bear Smart's advice and write to our premier at email@example.com.
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