The BC Conservation Officer Service is in the media spotlight again this week following concerns from a wildlife rehabilitator posted on social media.
What We Know
Critter Care Wildlife Society reported through social media their frustration with how a bear cub was sedated and transported to their facility on January 14, 2020, noting the 40-pound cub required 1 to 2 CCs of sedation drugs but received 6 CCs. The cub was in a kennel in the back of a pickup truck, exposed to elements when the temperature was -9°C. Critter Care reported that the cub was not covered or wrapped in a blanket or insulation but did not indicate from where the cub was transported or for how long they were in this situation. The combination of these two factors was dangerous to a cub, they said, also stating that conservation officers are offered towels or blankets to assist but often turn down such offers.
The Fur-Bearers, as a matter of course upon reviewing the statements from Critter Care, searched for protocols or policies relating to the transportation and sedation of bear cubs on government websites; we also reached out to the Conservation Officer Service for information on the transportation and sedation protocols or policies, as requested by the Conservation Officer Service in recent weeks. No information was found or made available (emails were sent on the evening of January 15 and morning of January 16).
In response to the concerns raised by a licensed and experienced wildlife rehabilitation facility, numerous mentions and comments on social media, questions from The Fur-Bearers, as well as media (Global and CBC) inquiries, an emailed statement was provided:
“The COS understands the public’s desire to help wildlife, and to ensure their comfort and safety as much as possible … Conservation Officers are trained in the proper care and handling of animals, which include guidance from our provincial wildlife veterinarian on safe transportation of bear cubs to rehabilitation centres.”
What We’re Talking About
There are three major concerns that The Fur-Bearers have identified through this process:
1. Equipment and procedure. It is alarming that the Conservation Officer Service was unable or unwilling to publicly disclose what protocols and policies exist or are in place related to the sedation and transportation of bear cubs. The response to media – that officers are “trained” and receive “guidance” from a provincial wildlife veterinarian is not reassuring when those who handle the health of bear cubs daily state they need to do better. Standardized equipment such as first aid for wildlife (blankets, field first aid kits, basic diagnostic tools) and intervention tools like catch nets for when bears are shot or sedated out of trees seem reasonable, but what standards exist are unknown. A simple procedure or protocol would be expected for these situations and we’re left wondering if one exists.
2. Communication. The Conservation Officer Service had an opportunity to say, “We’re looking into this situation to determine if procedure was followed and how we can do better.” They could have also said, “We take the welfare of wildlife extremely seriously and will look into this incident and concerns.” Instead they stated they have proper training (didn’t say what it is or acknowledge the existence of policy and procedures) and that they receive guidance from a provincial veterinarian (our follow ups: who personally signs off on dosing for all instances; who outlined dosage in a policy; etc.). This is an opportunity to grow as an agency as well as build public trust with simple responses. Neither option was taken publicly.
3. Independent oversight remains vital. A board that exists outside the command structure of the COS and reports directly to the Minister of Environment and not the Chief Conservation Officer would be able to review the decision making in this instance and determine if there’s a need for new or updated policy and communications.
The Fur-Bearers acknowledge that there is much in this case we don’t know. However, that’s entirely at the discretion of the COS who have not provided responses to direct questions posed from our organization or in their emailed statement to the media.
As British Columbia evolves alongside new social positions, so too must the agencies who form the bureaucracy of the province. The Fur-Bearers are hopeful that the COS will respond to inquiries publicly and transparently so that all those with an interest in protection of wildlife and our environment can begin the process of growing trust. We will consider filing a formal complaint should the process of openly requesting information not yield adequate responses moving forward. While the COS does not currently have independent oversight, formal complaints are subject to judicial review.