An emaciated bear cub brought from an Anmore yard to the Critter Care wildlife sanctuary is expected to survive but the people who helped were threatened with legal trouble.
“This, to us, is another example of the Conservation Officer Service creating distrust with the public,” said Michael Howie, with Fur-Bearers, a conservation group also contacted by the family that took the bear to the South Langley wildlife rehabilitation facility.
He said the family asked the officers about transporting the cub to the wildlife shelter after checking with Critter Care that it could accept the cub.
“They were threatened with legal action for doing what is in-arguably the right thing,” Howie said.
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Corinne Robson, 52, said she and her husband were willing to face the consequences of acting to save the cub. On Sunday, they were contacted by Chris Doyle, deputy chief of the Ministry of Environment South Coast Region to say that the ministry was no longer going to pursue enforcement action.
The Robsons are pleased that the ministry has chosen this path after the story blew up.
“In our minds, this anger [towards the Conservation Officer Service] and negative press is completely warranted, and we feel that the BCCOS is antiquated and needs a complete overhaul by the provincial government,” Corinne said.
It started when she heard the neighbour’s dog barking for an extended period on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 8. With her dog, she went to check it out because of a spate of recent break and enters in the area. When her dog reacted, she knew it was wildlife and went back home to allow it space.
That evening, Corinne got a text from her next door neighbour’s teenager, concerned about a small bear that had taken up refuge on their patio. Corinne and her husband, Mike, 68, went over to help if they could.
Corinne said they were careful about how they dealt with the situation as they are accustomed to having bears travel through their property, and are bear aware.
They only ever viewed the bear through the downstairs window of the neighbour’s home and reached out to Fur Bearers, which Corinne said has the permits to transport wildlife, as well as Critter Care and Conservation.
“We didn’t just go over there and scoop it up,” Corinne said. “I knew that you have to go through proper channels.”
But she became frustrated Wednesday evening when the Conservation Officer (CO) she spoke with said they would not be coming out, and if they did come out the next day, would herd the animal to the nearby woods and “let nature take its course,” she said.
Given the cold weather and the small size of the animal, she was concerned for its survival.
Early Thursday morning while Mike held a bin, the Fur-Bearer volunteer, Marcia Potter, with previous wildlife rehab experience, used a blanket to get the cub into the bin. Potter drove the bear to Critter Care in her vehicle. Mike was a passenger in the vehicle and later that morning arrived back in Anmore to find a CO at his home. That’s when he was told there would be an investigation and legal implications.
Howie would have liked to have seen the COs say they would attend and assess the situation but instead said before they saw the bear what would happen to it.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said the incident was being investigated because it is illegal under the BC Wildlife Act to transport wildlife.
Conservation was called at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday about the cub and determined there was no urgency to attend that evening. The callers were advised to avoid interacting with the bear for their safety and that of the bear.
Conservation went to the Anmore property on Thursday morning to do a follow up and assess the bear when they discovered it had been transported to the Langley wildlife facility.
Howie said the public should not have to fear a government agency when trying to help wildlife, noting that the family was first told the COs would not attend on Wednesday, even though the bear had been watched for about several hours with no signs of family nearby.
The Fur-Bearers are disappointed that this situation became adversarial and that the initial call between the Anmore residents and the COs was not one of solutions in the best interests of the cub, he said.
Up until July, a few hundred bears were killed and only 13 fines issued. If COs say the bears have to be killed because of food habituation or losing their fear of humans, then those responsible for creating those conditions need to face consequences, not people trying to save wildlife.
Based on government data, black bears were killed about 22 per cent of the time, he noted.
“We’re just disappointed more than anything… when they reached out for help they were first told no, then they were given an unacceptable response, then they were threatened,” Howie commented.
Howie said there’s other ways to handle the bears calls.
“The problem is we don’t know how many of them were necessary because there’s no oversight,” he said.
He added that this is an armed service with no obligation to answer to the public.
He would also call on COs to use other measures before resorting to killing the bears, such as hazing, taking bears to rehab, and issuing fines for not detering bears.
“We received an enormous amount of support from many individuals, non-profits and the media over the past few days,” Corrine Robson commented.
The support came with offers of money but have declined, instead encouraging people to be more bear aware and suggesting they support certain wildlife organizations including Critter Care, Stop the Grizzly Kiling, Fur Bearers, Pacific Wild, or the North Shore Black Bear Society.
“Have a better understanding of bear behaviour, learn how to minimize human/bear nteractions/conflicts, and do our part to keep bears wild,” said a statement from the Robsons. “It is of vital importance for all of us to to learn of the issues affecting BC bears and the necessity to preserve BC bear habitat.”
The ministry said it has chosen not to pursue enforcement action but cautioned others about trying to rescue wildlife.
“After thoroughly looking into the circumstances surrounding this incident, the COS has determined that no enforcement action will be taken against people who were clearly acting with good intentions. Over the weekend COS communicated this to the individuals involved,” the ministry said in a statement to Black Press Media. “Members of the public are encouraged not to interact with wildlife that might appear to be orphaned as early human intervention could lead to the separation of the family unit of bears.”