Influx of orphaned bear cubs has wildlife centre issuing public plea
A Vancouver Island wildlife recovery centre dealing with a flood of orphaned bear cubs is issuing an urgent reminder to try to prevent more human-bear conflicts.
The cubs, named Rae, Tim, James, Dean and Black Jack, have been arriving at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington since June, with more coming in July and October and all from different parts of the island.
"There's a lot of energy, they're running around. They're being fed well and they're happy and healthy right now, so they're okay," said Tawny Molland, an animal care technician at the centre.
Most of the cubs came into the centre's care because their mothers were killed in conflicts with humans.
"We had one come from Sooke and unfortunately his mom was hit by a car. Then we've had another one from Woss, she was actually found by the side of the road by herself very weak, starving," said Molland. "The other three, unfortunately it was conflicts with humans and garbage."
The recovery centre hopes to educate the public to avoid these types of conflicts in the future by locking up their garbage and picking up any fruit that has fallen off trees.
"Right now we're trying to get word out that the bears are trying to fatten up for the winter months, so we're asking people to please pick up their fruit off the ground. They're out there looking for a food source and fruit on the ground attracts them," Molland said.
"The other thing we're asking is when it's your garbage day, not to put your garbage out the night before. That's a huge attractant for the bears so if you could, a real nice sealed container and put it out the morning of pickup."
But conservation officers say despite constant reminders, many residents still aren't getting the message when it comes to bear attractants.
"Some people either don't know or don't care, I guess that's the only way to say it," said officer Stuart Bates. "It's really incumbent on the people, and they can be charged for not doing it."
The fine for not properly securing wildlife attractants is $250 under the BC Wildlife Act, and Bates says he's willing to issue those fines if people aren't using enough care and common sense.
"I've had people where I've had to destroy a bear because the bear became food-conditioned and human-habituated, and then they'll call me two weeks later and say there's another bear there and ask me when the bears are going to learn," said Bates.
Horgan says COs have 'full authority'
It also appears conservation officers in B.C. are being given back autonomy when it comes to deciding whether or not to destroy a bear.
The issue arose In 2015 when former officer Bryce Casavant was instructed to euthanize young cubs after their mother was killed, but he refused and instead brought the cubs to the wildlife recovery centre, earning him a suspension.
Premier John Horgan said Wednesday that frontline officers are the best ones to decide the fate of bears who run into problems, signalling a possible change in policy from the previous government.
"Based on the controversy around Bryce Casavant and how the former government addressed that issue, I'll have to go back and talk to my officials to see how they're dealing with this," said Horgan. "But it's my expectation that conservation officers have full authority to deal with wildlife situations as they find them, and they shouldn't have to check in with head office before they make decisions that could be, in many instances, life and death decisions."
The bear cubs currently in care at the recovery centre are expected to remain there until next fall, when they'll hopefully be released back into the wild.