EDMONTON – A ban on private rehabilitation of orphaned black bear cubs in Alberta is to be lifted by the province in the coming weeks.
The ban, which has been in place since 2010, has meant that bears orphaned in the province have been killed or sent to zoos.
Officials say they have been working with wildlife sanctuary operators to develop a new policy. They had hoped to have it in place before this spring’s black bear hunt, which started on Sunday.
“We’re close, but it’s still not ready for public release,” said Matt Dykstra, a spokesman for Alberta Environment and Parks. “It was our hope to have it in place by the start of the spring hunt. It’s our expectation that it will be completed very soon.”
Dykstra said a new policy will be in place in “weeks, but not months.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what will happen to any orphaned bears found this spring before any changes take effect.
A wildlife sanctuary operator in southern Alberta said her facility is ready to take orphaned animals, but she said she’s not holding her breath.
“They can change a policy as easily as they change their socks or underpants,” said Clio Smeeton, director of the Cochrane Research Institute, which rescues, rehabilitates and releases injured and orphaned wildlife. “It’s just a matter of writing something down.
“There is over 30 years of solid scientific research and peer-reviewed published papers, including some we’ve published, that show that wildlife rehab works.”
The province said Wednesday it will allow the compassionate rehabilitation of orphaned black bear cubs in circumstances where returning them to the wild is not the best option.
It will also consider public safety and the resources of rehabilitation centres, said Dykstra.
“Our desired outcome would be … safely returning the animal to its native habitat so it can succeed in the wild.”
Three black bear cubs were found abandoned in a washroom along the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park a year ago. They were sent to a rehabilitation facility in Ontario and are set to return to the national park this year.
There was also a public outcry after an Alberta facility wasn’t able to take in a young black bear found injured along a highway near Calgary.
British Columbia and Saskatchewan have bear rehabilitation centres, but they do not accept out-of-province bears.
There are bear rehabilitation facilities in central Ontario that accept bears from other provinces, but the Ontario government insists that the animals be returned to the province of origin for release.