July 9, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Vancouver Island, B.C. – A conservation officer in British Columbia has been suspended without pay after refusing to kill two baby black bears. The bears were looking for their mother, who was killed after repeatedly looking for food in a homeowner’s freezer. The officer, Bryce Casavant, took the bears to a veterinary hospital before sending them to a wildlife rehabilitation center.
The resident, who lives south of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, called the conservation service after a mother black bear raided his freezer on more than one occasion, taking salmon and other meats. Rather than tranquilizing and relocating the bear, the service opted to kill her because of her potential to harm humans.
When the male and female cubs came searching for their mother over the weekend, they climbed a tree next to the complainant’s mobile home. From there, firefighters and Casavant worked to bring the bears down.
After tranquilizing them—and ignoring the order from his superiors to “destroy” them—Casavant took the bears to a local veterinarian, who deemed the cubs to be in good health. They were then transferred to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, also located on Vancouver Island. The cubs were estimated to be eight weeks old, weighing 20-25 pounds each.
Robin Campbell, who founded and manages the recovery center, believes Casavant did the right thing. “[The mother bear] was a problem, but these cubs did nothing,” he said. Campbell was confused by the order because heevaluated the cubs as “fearful of humans and good candidates for release [back into the wild].”
Further, he noted that in addition to their fear of people, the cubs were not present when their mother was raiding the freezer—making them unlikely to seek human food in the future. According to the North Island Gazette, a community paper, the conservation service received conflicting reports that the cubs were eating garbage, which allegedly prompted the decision to kill.
The conservation service’s order to kill the cubs is particularly puzzling because senior biologists and wildlife veterinarians are—according to a statement by Environmental Minister Mary Polak—involved in making decisions to destroy animals or save them. Their judgment was starkly different from Campbell’s.
The B.C. Ministry of Environment says it has not determined what to do with the surviving bears it intended to kill, though Campbell believes the bears can be released back into the wild by the spring or summer of 2016. Meanwhile, the ministry says it is conducting an internal investigation, “including the actions of its members.”
“This is a very sad and unfortunate situation,” Polak said in a statement. “Although conservation officers must sometimes put down wild animals for the safety of the public and the welfare of the animal, we understand how difficult it is for all involved.”
In the time since the story first broke, an online petition calling for Polak to reinstate Casavant has gathered thousands of signatures. His punishment is arguably more stringent than many American cops receive for killing unarmed humans.
As upsetting as Casavant’s experience may be, Campbell suggested the bear cub ordeal was an isolated incident. “In 30 years, this is the first time we’ve ever had an issue like this,” he said. “There has to be some kind of misunderstanding … hopefully somebody will come to their senses.”
Even the owner of the mobile home—who initially called the conservation service—was dumbfounded by the agency’s decision to kill the bears. “It’s immoral to shoot a helpless baby bear, they are nursing still. They are not garbage bears. They are infants,” he told the North Island Gazette.
As for Casavant, he seemed less concerned with saving his job than he was with making his intentions clear. “I think it is important for the community to know that I am here to do the right thing,” he said. Though he has declined to comment further, the Vancouver Sun reported that his wife, Katie, said they feared he would permanently lose his job if he spoke publicly.
In contrast, Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, confirmed Casavant’s suspension while maintaining that as a conservation officer, he had the right to exercise his best judgment.
“We’ll file a grievance on behalf of him and we’re going to aggressively defend him in his decision to do his job, which is to conserve wildlife where appropriate,” she said.
If you believe Casavant acted in the spirit of conservation, sign the petition to reinstate his job.
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