A former conservation officer and failed NDP candidate in the May election is calling for policy changes after a massive spike in the number of black bears destroyed last month.
Conservation officers had to put down 119 bears in May, more than double the 52 that were killed in the same month last year, and the deadliest month for the animals in the last six years.
That signals the need for change, according to Bryce Casavant.
LISTEN: Bryce Casavant says human bear conflicts signal the need for change
Casavant is no stranger to the controversy around killing bears.
He famously came into conflict with the Conservation Service after refusing an order to put down a pair of orphaned cubs in 2015.
Casavant said while it’s impossible to make assumptions about what prompted any individual decision to destroy a bear this year, there are systemic issues at play.
“Most of the province, and most communities within the province, do not have comprehensive wildlife management plans for urban wildlife,” he said.
Casavant said the need for those plans is growing as industrial and urban development continue to cut into bears’ traditional habitat.
He adds that while there obviously wasn’t a 120 per cent increase in development this year, predators’ five- and 10-year breeding cycles could account for part of the bump.
“We need to be looking at provincial policies, not just from a perceived public safety aspect where we assume that all predators are dangerous and therefore must be destroyed in the interest of public safety,” Casavant said.
“I don’t believe that’s always the case. I think what we need to be looking at is a conservation-first approach and public education, and developing coexistence plans that are comprehensive.”
The other half of the equation, according to Casavant, is an increase in enforcement.
He cites a recent study that found public education about proper trash and food management falls on deaf ears if it’s not backed up by uniforms and penalties.
He said in B.C.’s case, the lack of bodies is showing.
“One of the reasons we have this situation is ministry cuts to the Conservation Officers Service. Generally speaking, we have staffing levels at historical lows in this province.”
Casavant’s comments come as B.C. shifts into human-bear conflict season.
Earlier this week, a Whistler man’s video of a black bear climbing into his van went viral, while last month a pair of hikers near Squamish were charged by a bear.
Last year, the city of Coquitlam was forced to crack down on residents over safe trash handling just days after a young girl was mauled by a food-habituated bear.