BC policy outlines conservation officers’ discretionary powers in wildlife conflict cases
By Larry Pynn, The Province
The provincial government has issued new guidelines on how conservation officers should exercise discretion in the field when deciding to kill or spare the lives of bears and other large carnivores that come into conflict with humans.
The new policies follow international controversy last July when a conservation officer was suspended and subsequently transferred to another job for refusing a superior’s order to kill two young black bear cubs on Vancouver Island.
“I cannot speak to that specific incident,” Chris Doyle, deputy chief of B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service, said Tuesday in an interview. “What I can say is that the (new) procedure provides the information to officers who can make decisions in the field based on the criteria on what makes a bear a good candidate for rehab or not.”
A copy of the guidelines provided to The Vancouver Sun reads, in part: “There are many variables that can influence the response to conflicts with large carnivores and officer discretion is not superseded by policy or procedure. An officer must be prepared to rationalize their decision-making when it varies from this procedure.”
Said Doyle: “The procedure provides the tools for the officers to have the ability to make the decisions. The officers in the field can make those calls, and here’s the criteria on how those decisions can be made. The reality is we want the cubs to stay wild if we can and keep them with their moms.”
Section 79 of the Wildlife Act states that conservation officers “may kill an animal, other than a domestic animal, that is at large and is likely to harm persons, property, wildlife or wildlife habitat.”
Doyle noted that the availability of rehab centres to handle wildlife is also an issue, noting, for example, that Critter Care Wildlife Society in Langley was full with bear cubs last year. “This spring, we released 30 bears from that facility.”
The guidelines state that consideration should be given to the rearing and release of orphaned black bear cubs that are considered suitable candidates. “Young of the year must not display high levels of habituation to humans or be conditioned to human food sources.”
Officers have the option of contacting a wildlife vet or regional biologist if they require further clarification. “Only young of the year are candidates. Orphaned yearling black bears will be left in the wild.”
Bears will only be relocated short distances where there is “no or very limited indication of food conditioning and no indication of aggressiveness” and where bears are healthy and not requiring parental care to survive. Those released will be fitted with an ear tag, electronic tag, tattoo (lip and groin), and preferably a transmitter.
Grizzly bears are given priority over black bears for space in rehab centres, according to the guidelines, and can be moved over long distances such as to areas where populations are low.
The policy also states that ranchers are “required to follow best management practices for cattle and sheep to reduce the risk of conflict” with wolves and coyotes.
It adds: “Where a conflict caused by a wolf pack has been confirmed, the pack may be removed (killed).”
Wolves and coyotes with cubs can only be killed if a den is established within an area actively used by livestock during the spring and summer seasons and where livestock losses and harassment of livestock are confirmed.
Capture and relocation of cougars and wolves are not permitted under the policy, other than juveniles taken into permanent captivity where appropriate.
Cougars are considered low risk and non-threatening if they are viewing humans from a distance, taking flight, or showing lack of attention. High-risk behaviour includes crouching, tail twitching, intensive staring, ears flattened, body low to the ground, rear legs pumping, or fur standing out.
Large carnivores should be destroyed when they show aggression to humans or become conditioned to human food.
Last July, a female black bear was killed for raiding a property for food near Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. Conservation officer Bryce Casavant refused to kill the two eight-week-old cubs and instead took them to the non-profit North Island Wildlife Recovery Association.
The cubs are due for release back to the wild later this summer, equipped with GPS collars to monitor their movements.
Conservation officers fall under the Ministry of Environment, but the new procedures were produced by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, which is responsible for the management of wildlife in the province.
“We had input,” Doyle said. “I support the document.”
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