Island conservation officer suspended over refusal to kill bear cubs

A B.C. conservation officer who refused to kill two orphaned black bear cubs is getting support from thousands of people in an online petition.

According to the petition, conservation officer Bryce Casavant was “suspended without pay pending a performance investigation after he refused to put down two bear cubs this weekend.” As of Tuesday night, about 12,000 people had signed the petition, which calls on the B.C. Ministry of Environment to reinstate Casavant.

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The two bear cubs, one male and one female, were sent to an Errington wildlife shelter after they were collected Sunday in Port Hardy.

A firefighter volunteered to scale a 35-foot ladder to reach them high in a tree, where they were calling for their mother. The mother had been destroyed several days earlier, said deputy fire chief Brent Borg.

The mother was reported by the North Island Gazette to have twice broken into a freezer of meat and fish in a mobile home near where the tree is located.

The cubs are not behaving in any way that indicates they should be destroyed, said Robin Campbell, founder of North Island Wildlife Recovery Association, who is helping to look after the cubs at the Errington shelter.

“I feel that Bryce is a hero,” Campbell said. “We’ve had lots of people call us and they’re just devastated.”

He said he was shocked to receive an email saying that Casavant had been suspended without pay pending an investigation and said Casavant should be paid “until they get the story straight. Somebody’s made a mistake somewhere along the line. This guy doesn’t deserve this.”

Campbell said he has rehabilitated hundreds of black bears over the past 30 years, and the two cubs are among seven that staff are getting ready for release back into the wild.

One of the reasons bears must be destroyed is habituation to people and their food, but Campbell said that the cubs are “not habituated at all. … When they came here, they acted totally like normal bears out of the wild — they ran from us.”

He said that the owner of the mobile home called him and told him that the mother bear was the problem, not the cubs.

In May of this year alone, 235 black bear calls were received by B.C. conservation officers and 67 of the bears were destroyed. Other officers, such as police, destroyed 16 more. One cub was sent to a shelter, compared to eight the previous month. Island figures were not available.

There was no reason for Casavant to act as he did unless he believed the cubs were good candidates for rehabilitation and release into the wild, Campbell said. He said the Port Hardy veterinarian told him that the cubs were pudgy and healthy, with good teeth.

Campbell said he’s never had to speak out against the Ministry of the Environment, which oversees conservation officers, until now.

“The conservation officers are the front line. We have made it so hard on them. Enough’s enough. Now we’re not even going to listen to their judgment calls, after doing everything that they’ve been trained for.”

In a statement, Environment Minister Mary Polak said more information about the status and welfare of the cubs will be shared as it becomes available.

Chris Doyle, acting deputy chief of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, said he could not comment on personnel issues but did say that in general, disciplinary action is infrequent for officers.

There are about 20 conservation officers on the Island out of 150 in B.C.

Casavant could not be reached for comment.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

> Information about the petition is on the change.org website

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