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British Columbia resident Tiana Jackson hasn't slept all weekend, plagued by nightmares of the hasty "execution" that took place on her property late last week.
On Friday, a B.C. conservation officer euthanized an orphaned black bear she had rescued and cared from her home, roughly 50 kilometres outside the northeastern city of Dawson Creek.
"He just hauled it out of there like it was some diseased piece of shit while it was still growling and gasping for air," said Jackson, fighting back tears. "I cried, begged, and pleaded, but he said it was the most humane way, it had to be killed."
The conservation officer administered an injection to the bear killed it less than two hours after Jackson found it lying by the road near Dawson Creek, presumably waiting for its mother. She had taken it to the fenced-in pastures of her rural home to prevent it from starving, drowning, or getting lost before the officer's arrival.
It was kept in a large kennel, fed, and watered, and was rolling around in the grass when he deemed it unfit for rehabilitation.
“It was horrifying," she said. "I have pictures of the bear very responsive, awake and alert. It seemed happy and relieved not to be alone."
Wildlife centre offered to take the cub
Jackson's fiancé, Tyler Olson, had already confirmed Friday afternoon that the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, B.C. would rehabilitate the young cub and release it into the wild. It already had two other orphaned cubs under its care from northeastern B.C. and was happy to take another one. In fact, the conservation organization says it has successfully done this for more than 350 black bears over 26 years.
In B.C. however, a conservation officer must approve the rehabilitation, and in this case, the officer did not return repeated calls from the wildlife society before injecting the cub on the couple's lawn. The B.C. Ministry of Environment later confirmed the bear was killed in a "humane manner" roughly 20 minutes after the office left the scene.
"I did get a call back later on after the cub had been killed from the conservation officer’s supervisor," said Angelika Langen, co-founder of the wildlife society. "I was told by him that the conservation officer had made the decision that the cub was not suitable for rehab because he was absolutely unresponsive.”
The Ministry of Environment declined an interview request about the matter. Instead, it sent National Observer a statement that defended its conservation officer and said that the bear was in poor health.
B.C. government stands by its decision
"Not a single conservation officer relishes the thought of having to destroy an animal," said the Ministry of Environment statement. "Determining suitability for bear cub rehabilitation is made using several factors including: health or injury, level of habituation, level of food conditioning, and conflict history."
While the ministry said Jackson was undoubtedly "well-intentioned" in rescuing the cub, such interactions may cause bears not to fear humans later on. Adult bears without fear of people can seriously injure or kill them, it explained, and euthanization can often be prevented by keeping wild animals in the wild.
"Bears and cubs that are conditioned to the presence of people or human food sources are not candidates for relocation or rehabilitation," said the statement. "But if bears are not allowed to get comfortable around people, and do not have ready access to human food sources, there are more options available to deal with them."
This statement actually represented a change from an earlier B.C. government policy that said bear cubs "should be killed in all situations."
A policy of killing bear cubs?
"Given the limited amount of resources available, the lack of conservation concern for Black Bears, the public safety concern, and lack of solid scientific data supporting the success of captive reared cubs returning to the wild, orphaned bear cubs have most often been euthanized," said a report from a government review that was completed in 2000.
That review concluded that orphaned bear cubs were unlikely to survive on their own if left in the wild. On the other hand, according to the Manitoba government's Wildlife Branch, studies have shown that more than 40 per cent of cubs orphaned in late May or later survive on their own.
Provincial legislation in B.C. has now been updated from the "kill in all situations" policy, and decisions are made "on a case-by-case basis," according to the Ministry of Environment.
"When necessary they are made in consultation between the provincial wildlife veterinarian, regional ministry wildlife biologists, and the conservation officer’s supervisor, taking into account all facts available at the time," said the statement sent to National Observer. "Current procedures allow for bear cubs of the year to be rehabilitated at an approved facility if they are determined to be good candidates."
The statement did not confirm whether a veterinarian, supervisor, or biologist was consulted in the killing of the cub on Jackson and Olsen's property.
In a well-documented case of animal mercy last summer, the government punished Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant for refusing to kill two young bear cubs. The officer was suspended from his job for asking to rehabilitate the animals when their mother was destroyed for repeatedly breaking into the freezer of a mobile home in Port Hardy, B.C.
His suspension sparked outrage across the country from nearly 310,000 signatories to an online petition demanding his reinstatement, but Casavant refused to take his old job back.
Need for tighter legislation
Inspired in part by his example, both Jackson and Olson have now become advocates for tighter provincial regulation regarding the use of lethal force when it comes to wildlife encounters. They are contacting animal rights advocacy groups across the province, and pledged that they will continue to rescue any animals they see at risk in the wild.
“For a case like this, I’m a firm believer that every life deserves a chance," Olson told National Observer. "This bear was perfectly healthy. The policy is garbage. A cub like that should be checked out by a rehabilitation specialist before a call like that was made."
His position is backed by the Association for Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals (APFA), which has pressured the B.C. government for years to tighten the wildlife laws:
"The pubic deserves transparency," said executive director Lesley Fox. "What reassurance is given to the public that every non-lethal option was exhausted first? The public has clearly stated they don't support this, particularly when other options like wildlife rehabbers and centres are available."
According to B.C. government estimates, upwards 700 black bears are destroyed by conservation officers annually throughout the province.
- Update from Thurs. May 12, 2016: The B.C. Ministry of Environment refused to confirm that the bear was killed by lethal injection, which was Tiana Jackson's original statement. It would not disclose the method used to euthanize the bear, or where it disposed of the animal's body.