District of North Vancouver supports transparency of black bear conservation

Council endorses protection for cubs and accountability for officers

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By EDMUND HAYLEY

After a record-breaking 603 black bears were killed by conservation officers in B.C. in 2023, the protection of black bears cubs and the transparency of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service have become focal points for wildlife activists and municipal politicians.

The District of North Vancouver council voted to support the Union of British Columbia Municipalities Black Bear Cub Conflict Response resolution on Feb. 26.

With Coun. Lisa Muri absent, the motion was carried 6-0.

According to District of North Vancouver Coun. Jim Hanson, who spoke following the vote, the Lower Mainland Local Government Association will need to approve the resolution in its referendum and pass the motion. The motion would then go before UBCM.

“UBCM would then have a chance to vote on it as a resolution, and then it will be calling on the provincial government to establish better protocols around conservation management response to black bears, and the rehabilitation, particularly the rehabilitation, of black bear cubs,” Hanson said.

The approved motion included three elements: first, that an independent board of civilians be created in order to hold B.C. conservation officers accountable for their actions; second, that an audit of conservation officers be performed by the solicitor general; and third, that a mandate to transport orphaned black bear cubs to a wildlife sanctuary or veterinarian be declared.

Ellie Lamb, a Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC guide, a wildlife adviser on Pacific Wild’s advisory committee and an expert bear behaviour educator, made a presentation entitled “Protecting Our Bears Through Peaceful Co-Existence” at the council meeting on Feb. 26.

Lamb, who included in her presentation a recommendation that conservation officers wear body cameras to increase transparency, suggested that after additional municipalities pledge support for the resolution, provincial legislation changes can be made holding conservation officers accountable for their actions.

“Who would not want an armed police force to be accountable to the public, who are supporting them through their tax dollars?” Lamb said.

North Shore Black Bear Society co-executive director Holly Reisner, who also attended the council meeting, believes educating the public about how to manage their waste collections and teaching people about the innately “timid” nature of black bears as a species is imperative.

“We try to respond to nearly every report and to offer residents education about how to manage attractants,” Reisner said.

According to Reisner, District of North Vancouver has a “good relationship” with conservation officers. However, she said the agency has undeniable flaws, including having a shortage of officers and lacking an “independent oversight board.”

“They don’t have the staffing levels to be able to respond to each report,” Reisner said.

Reisner said she would prefer to see the UBCM motion amended to include protection for older bear cubs. A provincial policy demands that professionals “cannot offer any veterinary services to a bear that’s over 12 months of age.”

“They still may need support to get to adulthood so that they’re able to manage in the wild, or they may be injured and may need veterinary help,” Reisner said.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service issued a statement via email blaming the rise in black bear killings on accessible trash, while defending the actions of B.C. conservation officers:

“Garbage continues to be a significant cause of human-wildlife conflict and the unfortunate result of bears being put down to ensure people are safe from wild animals. Once bears are conditioned to non-natural foods, and show a minimal fear of people, they are no longer candidates for relocation or rehabilitation,” the statement said.

The statement added, “In 2023, the COS facilitated the transfer for 61 black bear cubs to permitted rearing facilities in B.C., as well as for safe euthanasia when necessary.”

Kathy Murray, Wildsafe BC community coordinator for Columbia Basin, repeatedly emphasized that “attractants” are the root cause of the rampant black bear killings, while she refused to condemn the actions of conservation officers.

“It’s whoever’s got garbage or food accessible to wildlife that is to blame,” Murray said.

Murray dismissed the idea that relocating bears could decrease the number of killings.

“Removing bears is not the solution,” Murray said. “They will more often than not come back to that capture site or end up being a problem in another community.”

When asked which actions would help the province someday reach zero annual black bear killings, Lamb had a differing perspective from Murray.

“You don’t want to take things that are supportive of life off the table, such as trend, relocation, or translocation of bears,” Lamb said.

Regardless of whether more municipalities, the Lower Mainland Local Government Association and the UBCM pass similar motions, a timeline for the implementation of new provincial legislation remains uncertain.

Edmund Hayley hosts a podcast about District of North Vancouver council’s UBCM Black Bear Cub Conflict Response motion.

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