Un’bear’able bureaucracy stalls cub relocation
Thursday, Apr 20, 2017 06:00 am
Three black bear cubs dumped and locked in a washroom at a Vermilion Lakes lookout are settling into their new home in Ontario after being stuck in limbo because of bureaucratic red tape.
Parks Canada staff cared for the tiny female cubs for about two weeks while they looked for a facility with the expertise and space to raise them for release back into the wild.
The case has raised debate about the Alberta government’s no-rehabilitation rule for black bears.
Ontario’s Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary offered to help, and was eventually able to obtain a permit from the Ontario government to fly the cubs there, care for them for the next year, and then return and release them back into Banff National Park.
“They’re doing great, considering they had a 12 or 13 hour journey to get here,” said Howard Smith, managing director of the wildlife sanctuary, located in Rosseau, ON, about 240-km north of Toronto.
“They play around, they are rough-housing and acting like bears – and they sleep a lot, which is normal for this age.”
The path to finding them a home has been difficult because of various provincial rules in Alberta and neighbouring B.C., leading to calls from wildlife rehabilitators for the Alberta government to review its policy.
Smith said the Alberta government, which came up with a policy in 2010 barring rehabilitation of black bears here, would not issue a permit to allow the bear cubs to be flown out of Calgary.
“It’s crazy because of their no-rehab rule,” he said, noting the bears first had to be driven 480-kilometres to Kelowna, B.C., where they were flown by WestJet to Toronto because of what he refers to as Alberta’s archaic rules.
“I hope this will get some discussion to allow rehabilitation of bears there. A lot of places do allow this, and we just don’t want to see a bear, through no fault of its own, euthanized.”
The no-rehab rule was put in place in 2010 because the province believed there were enough black bears here and wasn’t convinced returning rehabilitated bears to the wild would be successful.
Alberta Environment and Parks did not respond to the Outlook’s requests for information or an interview.
Ken Weagle, a director with the Cochrane Ecological Institute, said the bears will get great care at Aspen Valley, but hopes this case will bring about change and lead the provincial government to once again allow rehab of black bears here.
The institute – which has had a long record of rehabilitation and release of orphaned black bear cubs in Alberta dating from 1985 to 2011 – said their permit from the Alberta government specifically forbids them to accept and rehabilitate black bears.
He said they have the space for the bears and they were giving advice to Parks Canada on what to feed the bears.
Weagle said there is a process in Alberta to get a temporary shelter permit, which would let them take care of and rehabilitate the bear cubs for a specified period of time, noting that was done in 2011 to allow for the rehabilitation of four bears cubs.
“There is a system in place to make this happen, to keep the bears in Alberta, but instead, these bears had to be shipped 3,000 (kilometres) across the country, which would be very stressful,” he said.
“Up until 2010, we were fully permitted to take black bears, and we did have black bears, but since then, the Alberta government kills orphaned black bear cubs, they just put them down.”
The three bear cubs were found on April 1 locked in a washroom overlooking Vermilion Lakes, located off the east-bound lane of the Trans-Canada Highway immediately west of the Banff townsite.
Parks Canada does not yet know for sure how the bears came to be there, but there’s been speculation that the mother bear may have been killed by a hunter in B.C., who then realized there were cubs and put them where they could be found.
There was no evidence of bear activity in the area near where they were found after an extensive three-day search, and no reports of bears being hit on the railway or highways in the national parks.
Park officials say they took the necessary time to find the most appropriate location to relocate the cubs, noting Aspen Valley is reputable, has sufficient space, expertise, and a track record of success with this sort of situation.
Sheila Luey, acting superintendent of Banff National Park, said it has been a lengthy, complicated process in trying to find the cubs a new home for rehabilitation, but believes the cubs have ended up in the right place.
“We’ve had a lot of offers, which was really appreciated. There’s space for the bears, and our goal was really to keep them together, and to rehab them and not have them in some place where they’re on display,” she said.
“There aren’t many places that have done it before with success, and we have respect for the work they’ve been doing at Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.”
Meanwhile, Smith said the Ontario has no rule against bear rehabilitation, but they did need to get approval from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
“As long as they are going back to Banff, we can rehab them,” he said, noting Aspen Valley rehabilitated bears from Manitoba several years ago.
Smith said the sanctuary’s vet met the three bears at the airport in Toronto, where they were immediately checked over and fed before the 2.5-hour drive to the sanctuary north of Toronto.
“One of them is off the bottle, and the others are soon to be, which makes it easier for rehab when there’s less contact,” he said. “We minimize human contact as much as possible and there is no talking to the bears.”
Rehabilitation of the bears will be staged. They’ll go from the nursery to a larger pen with an outside run. In August, they’ll be put into a bigger enclosure, which will be more naturally forested.
“They’ll hibernate here for the winter and then they will be here until this time next year when they will go back to Banff as yearlings,” said Smith.
Smith said the wildlife sanctuary takes in about 10 to 20 orphaned or injured bears a year – and has never taken in any habituated bruins – but their fate upon being released into wild is often unknown.
He said rehabilitated bears are typically released into isolated areas in the province.
“They are ear-tagged when they are released. We’re not really able to put radio collars on and track them, but if we had resources to do that we would,” said Smith.
“With the ear-tagging, if the animals are hunted we find out. We’ve only ever had one or two ear tags ever come back.”