An environmental group is sounding the alarm over the number of bears and cougars killed by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service in recent years and calling for the province to outfit officers with body cameras while on the job.
B.C.’s conservation officers have killed roughly 4,300 black bears and 160 grizzly bears since 2011, according to provincial data. Roughly 780 cougars have also been killed.
In an open letter to Environment Minister George Heyman, Pacific Wild, a wildlife protection group for the Great Bear Rainforest, said it wants to see greater independent oversight of the actions by conservation officers, including the implementation of cameras by April 1.
“The current kill statistics are alarming and do not reflect the modern-day values of British Columbians,” the group’s executive director Ian McAllister said in a news release. “To provide transparency, ensure public trust and to protect the integrity of conservation officers, we are calling on the minister to make body-cameras mandatory and independent oversight a top priority for 2020.”
The open letter comes after the ministry released findings from an audit which looked at bear attractants in efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in the province. The audit, which reviewed bear activity in the summer and fall of 2019, resulted in more than 700 inspections, 75 warnings, and 355 orders for property owners to remove bear attractants.
Since April 1, 2019, five bears have been killed on Haida Gwaii, all attractant related.
Conservation officers conducted eight attractant audits on Haida Gwaii from Sept. 1 2019 – Nov. 1 2019 spanning over several days.
Audits focused mainly on community and public spaces (parks and schools) in every Haida Gwaii community, commercial facilities (restaurants and stores and residential neighbourhoods) – where bear activity was frequent and attractants were noted.
“During the attractant audits several compliance concerns were noted and follow up will occur in the spring. CO’s also delivered attractant and bear aware presentations to students in Skidegate and Port Clements,” stated A/Sgt. Chris Hamlyn of the Integrated Natural Resource Compliance and Enforcement Unit, Conservation Officer Service.
In the West Coast region, which includes Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island and the Bella Coola area, 95 enforcement actions took place.
Enforcement actions range from warnings, to requests to clean up bear attractants to issuing tickets.
Terrace CO’s conducted proactive residential attractant audits in both Prince Rupert and Port Edward totalling four hours over several visits from Sept. 1 – Nov. 15.
During this time two DWPO’s (Dangerous Wildlife Protection Orders) were issued for insecure attractants.
No bears were destroyed.
Heyman said in a statement that “not a single conservation officer relishes the thought of having to put down an animal, which is always a last resort for public safety.”
But Bryce Casavant, a policy analyst with Pacific Wild and former conservation officer, said in a statement that he disagrees with Heyman, calling it “unreasonable to believe that, including juvenile bear cubs, over 4,000 black bears were killed ‘as a last resort.’” In addition to body cameras, Pacific Wild is calling for the agency to suspend its use of ministerial communications and for the agency to be under regular independent review.
In an emailed statement to Black Press Media, the ministry said that public safety is the top priority when an officer deals with a wildlife conflict.
“Bears and cubs that have lost their fear of people, or are conditioned to human food sources, are not good candidates for relocation or rehabilitation, as they can be far too dangerous,” the statement reads.
The ministry did not say whether it is considering the use of body cameras but said that education is the best way to prevent wildlife conflicts and that it will complete another set of attractant audits in the spring.
with files from Jenna Cocullo
Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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