Sylvia Campbell has her hands full with baby bears these days.
What she doesn’t have is enough government funding to look after them.
Campbell, along with husband Robin, heads up the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association and her Errington facility is just about bursting with young bears and cubs — and with the spring hunting season in full swing, she’s concerned she might end up with more.
“There seems to be an enormous number of cubs being left orphaned and nobody knows why,” Campbell said. “We’ve got 11 bears right now, while at this time of year we would normally have about two or three, so there is obviously something going on out there.”
Part of the problem, she said, involves bears being hit by cars or mother bears bringing their families into town and becoming nuisance bears that spark fatal consequences for the mom.
“Four or five years ago, (former premier Gordon) Campbell decided to give the bear cubs a second chance, because of public outcry about putting down cubs,” Campbell said. “It’s hard to see when they put down little cute cubs but there’s a shortfall in the rehab community for that. Nobody else on Vancouver Island does black bears. That’s a huge factor.”
It costs the society approximately $40 per bear, per day, with the average stay being 18 months — as long as they would stay with their mother in the wild.
“I figured about $14,600 per year, per bear,” Campbell said. “Most of our day is spent looking after these bears. There is a lot of cleaning and we have to make sure there is feed in there and the baby bears of course get fed more often and cleaned more often.”
The young cubs, she added, need to be monitored to make sure their behaviour doesn’t lead to them becoming nuisance bears when they finish doing their time.
“They need to know how to interact with other bears,” she said. “They need to be able to survive out on their own.”
The high cost of maintaining the bears, she said, is made more difficult to bear in light of the facility being set to lose its $30,000 gaming grant next year.
“This is our last year for gaming funds, so that’s a $30,000 loss to our overall $300,000 budget, so that works out to about 10 per cent,” Campbell said.
Although she vowed never to turn a bear cub away, Campbell conceded she has room for only one or maybe two more cubs.
Campbell said Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser has taken up the centre’s cause, but his efforts to date have yielded few results.
“I have raised this in the legislature over and over again,” Fraser said. “I talked to Natural Resources minister Steve Thomson and he said they are not funding [wildlife recovery centres] in Ontario. I said they canceled the spring hunt in Ontario because the collateral damage is orphaned baby bears. As long as you have a spring hunt you are going to have orphaned baby bears — and they are the government’s responsibility under the Wildlife Act.”
Fraser said refusal to fund the rehabilitation of bear cubs could lead to the government breaking its own cruelty to animals legislation.
Cheekwan Ho, with the ministry’s media relations branch, said, like other provinces across Canada, the B.C. government remains focused on maintaining the health of overall wildlife populations, not individual animals.
Despite reported incidents of orphaned black bear cubs, she added, it is important to remember that the province has a healthy black bear population — with more than 120,000 animals.
Ho added the new Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act would apply to orphaned bear cubs once they are in captivity.
She said the ministry sets harvest limits to ensure black bear populations are sustainable, and bears in the company of juveniles are off-limits to hunting.