When he refused to kill two orphaned bear cubs, B.C. conservation officer Bryce Casavant put his career on the line. But he also sparked a needed debate about the morality of killing “problem” animals.
The incident that triggered this controversy occurred near Port Hardy three weeks ago, after the mother of the cubs was shot for raiding a freezer. Despite being ordered to destroy the eight-week-olds, Casavant took them to a local animal shelter for treatment.
For this act of human decency, Casavant was suspended. He remains at home while the Environment Ministry, where he works, conducts an assessment of his actions.
But it is not Casavant the ministry should be investigating. It is the government’s policy.
For the statistics make grim reading. In the past four years, conservation officers destroyed 352 cougars, provincewide.
To put that in context, hunters shoot fewer than 100 cougars a year on Vancouver Island — which has the highest density of these animals in North America.
Over the past decade, conservation officers, along with RCMP staff, killed almost 300 grizzly bears in B.C. That’s more than the grizzly population in the south Chilcotin.
And while it’s hard to keep up with the number of black bears exterminated, an estimated 1,870 have been killed since 2011.
A caution is needed here. This is not a tale of reckless slaughter. This is a tale of slaughter carried out in pursuit of a policy the ministry honestly believes in, indeed sees no alternative to.
And there are some limited defences that can be offered. Cougars are difficult to relocate. They don’t tolerate sedatives well, and an animal released in a different part of the province might be killed by the resident alpha male.
Wildlife officials can also claim some success relocating grizzlies and black bears.
But the unanswered question is why so many of these largely peaceful animals are killed in the first place. There is scant statistical evidence that human lives are being lost in numbers that compel such actions.
Since the late 1800s, only seven British Columbians have been killed by cougars. That’s about one every 17 years. Over the same period, grizzlies have killed just five people, and black bears, nine.
That’s hardly a massive death toll. Bee stings and lightning kill more people.
Moreover, the vast majority of bear attacks occur when someone either stumbles on the animal unexpectedly or gets between a mother and her cubs. These are defensive reactions, not instances of deliberate predation, and provide no reason to kill the bear.
The species at fault is us. Most of the cougars put down by wildlife officers were encountered in urban communities. They come here for the deer we allow to proliferate in our parks and gardens, and for the raccoons that live out of our trash cans.
Unfortunately, these realities won’t change any time soon. We’re not going to rid our cities of deer.
But what can change is the shoot-first policy the ministry too often employs. Wildlife experts from other jurisdictions believe much more can be done to relocate animals, in particular bear cubs.
The problem, of course, is money. A bullet costs $1.50, while relocating wildlife is much more expensive. And the Environment Ministry, like the rest of government, is strapped for funds.
But at its most basic, this isn’t a question of finance, it’s a question of morality.
After the ministry completes its investigation of Casavant and, we hope, reinstates him, it owes us an answer to this question: Is it true that B.C. lags behind some other jurisdictions in the humane treatment of wildlife, and what steps will be taken to make us leaders in this field?
From: Barb Murray <email@example.com>
Date: 15 July, 2015 11:03:20 PM PDT
To: “<firstname.lastname@example.org>Cc: Jane Thornthwaite MLA <email@example.com>
Subject: Successful Interventions by previous Ministers/Premier in wrong minded COS cub killing policy
Dear Ms. Stilwell,
After your response to me I would like to share with you some background and the real possibility of a reprieve for the two orphan cubs in Errington and for other orphaned cubs across BC. It appears you may not have been briefed fully by the COS or your support staff.
In this correspondence to you I will not be referring to any other bear over the age of 12mos old( only cubs of the year -COY). I believe your colleagues Ms. Jane Thornthwaite and Mr. Ralph Sultan may recall the successful public campaigns we waged on the North Shore to change the way COS handled orphaned cubs and how previous Ministers and Premier Campbell took a personal interest in orphan cub welfare. The Hansards are a good resource in this regard and the photo opts of politicians with cubs at both Critter Care-Langley and Northern Lights Wildlife Centre-Smithers.
The COS have historically ( and at present) not been predisposed to rescue black bear COY ( or grizzly COY) because of their hunting culture, BB’s are not a conservation concern and live COY’s are costly and cumbersome to deal with.
Categorizing COY’s as ‘garbage and habituated cubs’ is false and a red herring as these terms can not be properly applied to ‘cubs of the year’. Ask renowned bear rehabilitation experts: Dr.Beecham, Dr.Lynn Rogers, Charlie Russell, Benjamin Kilham, Else Poulsen, Dr. Gay Bradshaw, Robin Campbell, Angelika Langen, Mike McIntosh, Kip Parker( BC govt consultant in 2004/5) etc. etc.
In BC we have proven over and over again that with a concerted public outcry demanding compassion and humane treatment of animals by the gov’t( ie: Killing Orphan cubs on the North Shore in 2004/ Slaughtered Sled Dogs in Whistler 2011) we can trump what the COS macho culture, budgetary constraints and personal opinions may be. Judging from the current petition of over 200,000 in a week, the Minister or Premier will need to make this right before they suffer much more political damage. Also before the COS have their way and kill the two cubs at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre to prove a point and destroy a good man’s career in public service. Officer Casavant represents a new generation of wildlife conservation officers.
Also We Finally NEED a Province-Wide Policy on cub rehab rescues so that this political charged situation does not keep reappearing. ….these ‘COY kill’ decisions seem to be a case by case call and jurisdiction by jurisdiction. No rhyme nor reason except when there are camera’s rolling and the public is involved ( and a rehabber has room), the cubs are ‘usually’ saved. If in remote area without public involvement the cubs are ‘dispatched’ (killed) quietly. Why did the COS bosses want the Port Hardy cubs killed when media and firemen involved? I am puzzled. It may be a strategy to get more attention and budgets from the Ministries that COS report to ? Since 2001 their department has been cut year after year until it is bare bones with no one wanting to take over the senior CO job. Since the massive FLNR Ministry captured the wildlife branch things have gone from bad to worse for the guys and gals in the COS.
So something is amiss within the COS to bring this kind of negative attention to both FLNR and Eniro Ministries and stalling to resolve issue quickly?
I believe it is the same staffers within the Wildlife Branch/COS today in Victoria issuing the ‘kill’ orders as were there in 2004. They have continued to give ‘kill’ orders when they can get away with it…but this time the camera’s were rolling and Officer Casavant did the right thing otherwise the public would have called for him to be fired and he would have been branded forever as a terrible uncaring person not doing his job. He was in a no-win situation with his family, friends, community, media etc. if he had killed those cubs.
If you check, in the late 90′s, before I became a bear advocate in 2001, I believe a Minister of Enviro had to resign when the COS killed a COY which was going to be flown to Smithers rehab centre.
Please peruse the clippings and photos below (see Letter to Editor of PQ News Blog Posting) and understand that public pressure ‘can make things right-scientifically and morally’. We were able to correct the Conservation Officer Service’s COY kill policy for the lower Mainland in 2004 and Critter Care was given a bear rehab license.
Enviro Minister’s Barisoff, Penner and Premier Campbell embraced cub rehab in both urban and remote regions, Premier Campbell publicly promised $400k for ‘urban’ orphaned cubs in his election campaign 2005 and then again promised the same $400K in his campaign in 2009. Grouse Mountain’s vet Ken Mcquisten convinced the COS, Tony Hamilton, prov vet Helen H and Premier Campbell that they should be given a rehab license and grant for urban cub rehab. The rehab proposal never was realized as the District of North Vancouver rejected a re-zoning application in 2009. I opposed the proposal and helped return the promised 400K govt grant money to the Bear Aware program.
I hope you can help North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre do their job and Officer Casavant to be reinstated, without retribution.
If you would like clarification on any events sighted in this letter or regarding the science behind bear rehabilitation please don’t hesitate to ask. I can have the appropriate expert contact you or I can give you the clarification you may seek.
From: Stilwell.MLA, Michelle [mailto:Michelle.Stilwell.MLA@leg.bc.ca]
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 3:37 PM
To: Barb Murray
Thank you for contacting me and sharing your concerns. I appreciate it when constituents take the time to let me know what their key issues are in our community or Province at any given time.
This is a very sad and unfortunate situation with the mother bear and her cubs near Port Hardy.
Although Conservation Officers must sometimes put down wild animals for the safety of the public and the welfare of the animal, we understand how difficult it is for all involved.
I love animals and this story tears at my heart strings to think two baby bears might have been shot, but the decision about how this would be managed will be made by the conservation officers corps, not by politicians.
The conservation service operates very much like the RCMP. They make their own decisions in directing and hiring and firing their own staff.
I think animals have a soft spot in everyone’s heart, which is why we put $5m into the SPCA in our last budget because we want to try and protect orphaned and vulnerable creatures. In June, we also provided $135,000 to support the recovery of the Vancouver Island marmot over the next two years.
Our Conservation Officers provide the highest level of public safety and natural resource law enforcement service possible.
These very difficult decisions for animal relocation suitability are made by professionals including senior wildlife biologists and the provincial wildlife veterinarian, along with conservation officers.
The Conservation Officer Service is investigating this situation, including the actions of its members.
We will share information about the status and welfare of the cubs as it becomes available.
http://www.pqbnews.com/opinion/letters/317838591.html in response to article July 14th: Famous Bear Cubs Calling Errington Home for Now by Carli Berry http://www.pqbnews.com/news/315038451.html
In 2004 I was involved in a ‘save the cubs’ campaign on the North Shore, very much like the one playing out in Errington at this present time, minus social media.
Our conservation officer killed a yearling cub and a cub of the year with a lethal injection of a tranquilizer drug, kids and media watching.
A short time later another cub of the year was rescued by a District of North Vancouver park ranger and myself and then he too was killed in front of us because he was deemed ‘habituated’ and ‘food conditioned’ by the powers that be in Victoria.
That was the straw that broke the public confidence in the conservation officer service (COS) to do the right and humane thing. Intuitively, the public understand what we in the bear world know to be true: cubs of the year (COY) are not ‘habituated’ to humans forever or ‘food conditioned’ to garbage forever if rehabbed properly and given a remote location release.
This has been proven time and time again over many years with thousands of cubs of the year being successfully released around the world regardless of their early experience before 12 months of age.
There are many experts who have compiled and reported on the data and the Ministry of the Environment have these reports.
So why do they not set policy which reflects known science? Why does the COS create such a long, drawn-out media frenzy over two tiny cubs? It boggles my mind. Here we are 11 years later fighting again to save cubs from a senseless kill order at the same time fighting to save a man’s career in the public service?
Many, many undiscovered orphan cubs in B.C. are left to die as a result of the spring bear hunt, vehicle strikes, industrial development and nuisance mothers.
When we, as a community, learn about a few token cubs that can be rescued and taken to a privately funded, non-profit rehabilitation facility we expect that to happen without drama or spectacle. All we ask of the government is to let us bring a tiny bit of fairness to a tiny newborn bear in an increasingly unfair world.
Barbara Murray, B.C. Bear Advocate
https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-environment-mary-polak-reinstate-conservation-officer-bryce-casavant Fundraiser for two cubs to be released next spring: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/e110N6?psid=bdacbaf4e7f248edaf99f06e0d2c96a2
Dear Editor, (Unedited Version with Photos)
In 2004 I was involved in a ’save the cubs’ campaign on the North Shore, very much like the one playing out in Errington at this present time, minus social media. Our conservation officer killed a yearling cub and a cub of the year with a lethal injection of a tranquilizer drug, kids and media watching.
Photo appeared on the front page of the North Shore News by Terry Peters. Conservation Officer received death threats after photo released. These cubs were both feeding off garbage and being fed by people in a busy urban area.
A short time later another cub of the year was rescued by District of North Vancouver Park Ranger and myself and then he too was killed in front of us because he was deemed ‘habituated’ and ‘food conditioned’ by the powers that be in Victoria. This is the photo we took of him after his rescue and it was subsequently used in an article about his tragic death on the front page of the North Shore News.
That was the straw that broke the public confidence in the COS to do the right and humane thing. Intuitively, the public understand what we in the bear world know to be true, cubs of the year (COY) are not ‘habituated’ to humans forever or ‘food conditioned’ to garbage forever if rehabbed properly and given a remote location release. This has been proven time and time again over many years with thousands of cubs of the year being successfully released around the world regardless of their early experience before 12mos of age.
There are many experts who have compiled and reported on the data and the Ministry of the Environment have these reports. So why do they not set policy which reflects known science? Why does the Conservation Officer Service create such a long, drawn out media frenzy over two tiny cubs? It boggles my mind. Here we are 11 years later fighting again to save cubs from a senseless kill order at the same time fighting to save a man’s career in the public service?
Photo: Care4Bears Kids Campaign Article in Globe and Mail
Our North Shore campaign in ’04, with help from the Care4Bears Kids and their website, worked so well we had Environment Ministers Barisoff (’04)and Penner (’05-09) and Premier Campbell publicly proclaiming that the government of the day endorsed orphan cubs of the year(COY) rehabilitation and that wherever possible the Conservation Officer Service were to rescue cubs and take them to a government permitted (not govt funded) facility.
Many, many undiscovered orphan cubs in BC are left to die as a result of the Spring bear hunt, vehicle strikes, industrial development and nuisance mothers. When we, as a community, learn about a few token cubs that can be rescued and taken to a privately funded, non-profit rehabilitation facility we expect that to happen without drama or spectacle! All we ask of the government is to let us bring a tiny bit of fairness to a tiny newborn bear in an increasingly unfair world.
Barbara Murray, B.C. Bear Advocate,(Bears Matter) Nanoose Bay, BC P.S. More photos from North Shore Campaign to Allow Orphan Cubs a chance to be wild thru non-profit bear rehabilitation.
North Shore Cub Holly being transported to Critter Care in Langley-she and four others were the first ever to be released back in to the wild from the Lower Mainland by a rehabber in 2005. Since then Critter Care returns orphan cubs to the wild each spring. .
July 7, 2015 Summary of Ross Peterson & Conservation Officer Stuart Bates Presentations
How to Prevent Cougar Encounters
- Avoid hiking/walking at night
- Hike/walk with a partner
- DO NOT feed deer and racoons
- Keep dogs on leash
- Secure pets and livestock
- Keep small children close
May 10’15 Photo T. Ransom
What to do if you encounter a cougar?
- Do not run, do not scream!
- Make yourself look big
- Pick up small children
- Stare cougar in the eyes, do not break eye contact
- Yell at the cougar “Hey cougar! Hey cougar!”
- Back up slowly, shuffling feet
- In case of attack, fight back and be aggressive
- Bear spray works on cougars too.
- Use a hand held air horn
- Do NOT try to save a pet being attacked.
- Added by Barb: Play a radio in backyard to deter a cougar (or bear) fr entering, especially when young children playing.
Why must problem cougars be euthanized?
- Cougars hunting during day = human risk
– Will defend their kills
- Habituated cougars = major human risk
– Show no fear of humans
- Small children playing can be seen as easy targets
– Look like prey
- Relocation not possible
– Inhumane: very stressful for animals
– Highly territorial animals + high density of cougars = no safe place to relocate
– Cougars are smart: do not forget what they have learned
Note: CO Bates explained after session that when an animal is killed they ask the local FN’s if they would like the meat and use of the animal for ceremonial purposes.
Criteria COS consider:
– Behaviour: aggressive, threatening, predatory towards people, pets, and/or livestock
– Actions: attacking people, pets, or livestock
– Demonstrates a lack of fear of people.
– Human Safety: high risk of attack?
Why Cougars are in Nanoose Bay
- Natural wildlife habitat
- Natural wildlife habitat
- Englishman River = wildlife highway
- Deer and racoons = food
- Fawns easy prey
Cougars in Nanoose Bay
|Year||Calls to COS Central Island Zone||Cougar Calls in Nanoose||Bear Calls in Nanoose||Problem Cougars Killed on Vancouver Island|
“Prey ,such as deer, are the main reason for a healthy population of cougars” Much of the discussion focused on the healthy, abundant deer population within Nanoose Bay.
The information below was taken from BC Urban Ungulates Conflict Analysis: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/info/wildlife_human_interaction/UrbanUngulatesConflictAnalysisFINALJuly5-2010.pdf
Reference: BC Urban Ungulates Conflict Analysis: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/info/wildlife_human_interaction/UrbanUngulatesConflictAnalysisFINALJuly5-2010.pdf
Additional Attachment from COS:
WILDLIFE HEALTH FACT SHEET “WINTERKILL” IN COASTAL BLACK‐TAILED DEER: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/info/wildlife_human_interaction/winterkill-fact-sheet.pdf (full report)
This fact sheet gives an overview of the increasingly common issue of deer in poor health during the late winter and early spring in and around coastal British Columbia. Some of the information can also be applied to many wild animals during extreme and persistent inclement weather conditions. The south coast of British Columbia has one species of native deer, the coastal black‐tailed deer. The population density of deer varies significantly throughout its range on Vancouver Island and the coastal mainland. They are at moderate to high density on some islands and increasing in some semi‐rural, suburban and even urban areas on Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley. In these areas, deer now inhabit a new type of habitat for the species, sharing fields with domestic livestock and using cultivated landscapes such as golf courses, gardens and shrubs for feeding, in some cases on a year round basis. The lack of natural predators and milder winter conditions in rural and suburban areas also supports increased numbers of deer living near humans. Every year Ministry of Environment staff and the concerned public report a variable number of deer, particularly the young of the previous year, showing one or several signs that can indicate poor health. These include: • Loss of fear of humans • Weakness and presence near homes, on porches, in outbuildings • Poor to extremely thin body condition • Poor hair coats – from small areas of hairloss to almost completely bald • Digestive tract upsets – especially diarrhea, seen as green soft to liquid feces on the ground or coating the tail area • Death with no apparent warning, especially after a period of supplemental feeding Surprisingly, there is no evidence that these deer suffer from infectious diseases, but there is indication that the poor health is associated with high deer density and seasonal nutritional issues.
Please do care for these animals by reporting their condition to the Ministry of Environment – we are interested in tracking wildlife health and sampling specific animals. But please do not add to the problem by providing supplemental feed to deer at any time of year – you may be “killing them with kindness”. Help us keep BC wild animals wild and healthy.
Dr. Helen Schwantje Wildlife Veterinarian Wildlife Health Program http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/wldhealth.html April 2009
Special Thanks to Guest Speakers, Ross Peterson and CO Stuart Bates and to all 140 residents of Nanoose Bay for attending and contributing to North Island Wildlife Recovery Fund ($672 raised). Also without the sponsorship of Fairwinds Community Association this event would not have been possible..THANK YOU FCA -Crystal and executive members!