VANCOUVER — A wildlife-advocacy group is headed to B.C. Supreme Court to challenge the way the provincial government kills wildlife, especially young black bear cubs, that come into contact with humans.
The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals argues that conservation officers often kill bears that do not pose a threat to people and property and might be candidates for rehabilitation and return to the wild.
“We need to look at non-lethal ways of managing wildlife,” Lesley Fox, executive-director of The Fur-Bearers, said in an interview Tuesday.
She acknowledged there will be times when officers must kill bears, especially adult animals habituated to humans and posing a risk. But she said the risk is low for cubs under six months of age. She said she also wants officers to fine more landowners as a deterrent to ensure they keep food away from bears.
The Ministry of Environment did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
The association is seeking a judicial review of the decision by conservation officer Micah Kneller to kill an orphaned black bear cub on May 6, 2016, near Dawson Creek.
Documents filed by the association urge the court to find that the killing did not comply with Section 79 of the Wildlife Act, which reads, in part: “An officer may kill an animal, other than a domestic animal, that is at large and is likely to harm persons, property, wildlife or wildlife habitat.”
The documents state that Tiana Jackson discovered the orphaned cub on the road and reported it to RCMP, which contacted the Conservation Officer Service.
Jackson and others captured the cub, which was awake and active, and brought it to her residence for safekeeping in a dog kennel until an officer arrived. The bear was about the size of a domestic cat and “was not at large” or likely to harm people or property, the documents allege.
“After a very brief conversation with Jackson, before attending Jackson’s residence and without having seen the bear, Kneller confirmed to Jackson over the phone that he would kill the bear.
“Kneller was informed that a wildlife rehabilitation centre [Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers] had confirmed that it could accept the bear into its rehabilitation program, but Kneller nonetheless killed the bear.”
Jackson contacted The Fur-Bearers, which laid a formal complaint and asserted that Kneller acted outside his authority to kill animals under the Wildlife Act.
“No independent or legislated review process of any kind is required to take place when a Conservation Officer uses lethal force on a wild animal,” the documents note.
The province did look into the complaint. In a letter received by the Fur-Bearers on Jan. 13, 2017, Aaron Canuel, the deputy chief conservation officer, said there was no evidence to support the complaint against Kneller. Canuel argued that Section 86 of the Wildlife Act exempts conservation officers from restrictions against killing wild animals under Section 79 “when officers are engaged in performing their duties,” the court document states.
But the association argues that “an officer who acts without lawful authority is not engaged in his or her duties, but rather is acting outside of his/her duties.”
The Fur-Bearers appealed to chief conservation officer Doug Forsdick and on March 14, 2017, received a letter stating that Kneller “had sufficient cause when he euthanized the black bear.”
From April through July of this year, B.C. conservation officers have destroyed at least 204 black bears, almost twice the 108 shot last year. The ministry did not say how many of those bears were cubs born in that year.
The issue gained international notoriety in July 2015 when an adult female bear was shot after breaking into a freezer and grabbing garbage from inside a home near Port Hardy.
Conservation officer Bryce Casavant was ordered to shoot the sow’s two eight-week-old cubs on the assumption they were conditioned to human garbage and not candidates for rehabilitation.
Casavant refused, believing there was no evidence to support their death sentence, and took them to the non-profit North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre for rehabilitation. He was suspended from his job and, following a public outcry, transferred from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to serve as a natural resource officer.
The cubs — Athena and Jordan — were released into the wild in June 2016, and were thought to have successfully hibernated on their own. Julie Mackey, wildlife manager at the recovery centre, said Tuesday that as far as she knows the two cubs were successfully rehabilitated and that today “they’re just wild bears.”