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Killing of cub prompts outrage from Bear Smart director

COS says orphaned bear's exposure to conflict behaviour did not make it eligible for rehab
CUB CONCERNS The director of the Whistler Bear Smart Society is outraged after conservation officers killed a sow and her cub on Wednesday, Oct. 7. In most cases orphaned cubs are taken to rehab centres, like the Critter Care facility in Langley pictured above, before being evaluated for release back into the wild. Photo submitted

The director of Whistler’s Get Bear Smart Society is outraged following the reported killing of a mother bear and her cub.

“I don’t know why the cub was shot. Really there is no reason to shoot a cub,” Dolson said. “If it was shot for public safety reasons, that’s absolutely ridiculous, and if it was shot with the mind that the cub would come into conflict when it grows up, that’s also wrong.”

The sow and cub were destroyed following "the culmination of some escalating behaviour over the summer that included habituation, food conditioning, some aggression and conflict," said Inspector Chris Doyle with the Conservation Officer Service (COS) when reached Friday morning.

The sow was relocated with her three cubs in July after being separated from her cubs along the Valley Trail during the Ironman Canada race. The distressed bear was reportedly "bluff-charging" onlookers at the time. It's unknown what happened to the other two cubs.

Over the past several days, the bears' also reportedly entered a building and garbage shed, and accessed unnatural food at a campground, said Doyle, who explained why the cub didn't qualify for rehabilitation.

"The policy is that bears that will go to rehab facilities are those that aren’t food conditioned and habituated, so given that this wasn’t just a one-off event but the culmination of several events where the bear had exposure to conflict behaviour over a period of time, that means it did not meet the threshold (for rehabilitation)," noted Doyle.

The COS came under fire in July after a conservation officer was suspended for refusing to kill a pair of cubs whose mother was caught eating salmon from a freezer in Port Hardy.

The incident was something of a black eye for the COS, which already struggles with public perception issues. Although the officer involved, Bryce Casavant, was eventually put back on the payroll after public pressure mounted thanks to British comedian Ricky Gervais tweeting about the incident, he was later transferred out of the COS. He has since filed a grievance with the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.

"Obviously we want to maintain good relations with the community and we are there to serve the community," said Doyle. "The unfortunate thing is we’re not responsible for the conflict behavior of the bears; there are a lot of other factors that influence that. We’re responsible with dealing with the ultimate conflict that’s created in many times by human laziness, and at other times it’s created by illegal activity, such as feeding bears."

Dolson believes the controversy has changed the way the COS manages bears.

“Since the CO lost his job for doing the right thing in Port Hardy … it seems to me that the officers in the field feel they have no options left,” she said.

“It seems like open season on starving bears.”

A total of five bears have been killed as a result of conflict this season — two by the COS, and three by the RCMP.

Officials and biologists alike have warned of the increased potential for conflict this fall with few natural food sources after Whistler’s alpine berry crop was weakened during a hot and dry summer.

For Dolson, Wednesday’s killings reiterated the need for a diversionary food program to be implemented to keep Whistler’s bruins safe.

“The only solution to this problem in the short term is to implement a short-term supplemental food program,” she said. “It needs to be temporary, it needs to be organized by the province and used only in emergency situations.”

Although Parks Canada has used a similar program for years, leaving animal carcasses for bears to feed on in peace as they emerge from their dens in spring, organized food drops are technically illegal in B.C., and, according to Doyle, ultimately damaging to the bear population.

"The information we have at this point is that that type of activity does not, in the long term, benefit the bears or the safety of the public," he said.

Dolson feels now is the time for Victoria to take action to ensure the safety of the province’s bears.

“Our premier needs to take note because right now she is truly mishandling wildlife issues,” she said. “It would be a good time to allot more funding to Bear Smart community programs in this province so we can have more education and preventative measures and also more funding for the COS to support them with resources to use non-lethal means when possible.”

Questions have also emerged as to whether staffing levels at the COS have impacted bear management in the region. Currently, there are three officers covering the areas of Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish, North Vancouver, Lions Bay and Bowen Island.

"Obviously any kind of agency could always do more with more manpower, but that’s certainly not a limiting factor on how we deliver our service," Doyle said, noting that the COS will dole out extra overtime or bring in additional officers from other regions when needed. "The unfortunate thing is no matter how many of us are in Whistler, we can’t always keep bears out of conflict. A lot of that is because attractants and other issues that are around have been luring bears into conflict."