Officer awaits fate as snoozing bear cubs on track for return to the wild

Jordan and Athena healthy and happy at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre while arbitrator determines future of Bryce Casavant

Bear cubs Jordan and Athena in mid-October

Bear cubs Jordan and Athena in mid-October

As the fate of B.C. conservation officer Bryce Casavant is being determined by a union grievance hearing, the two bear cubs he saved are doing what bears do in the winter.

They are hibernating.

Jordan and Athena, now each a year old, became international celebrities in July of last year when Casavant defied government orders and refused to kill them.

Because of that decision, the cubs are today sleeping peacefully in a man-made enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre near Parksville, biding their time until they will be reintroduced into the wild later this year.

“They’re doing really, really well,” NIWRC wildlife manager Julie Mackey said. “They’re in an enclosed facility with six other cubs. They eat a lot and sleep a lot and chase each other around.”

The chasing has been less common since early December when the cubs went down for their mid-winter snooze. Rising temperatures will probably push them out of their den soon. Mackey said they should be ready for release — likely at an undisclosed north Island location — some time this spring or summer.

The goal of the centre is to keep wild animals as independent and isolated from humans as much as possible until they are healthy enough — or, in this case, mature enough — to survive in the wild. For Jordan and Athena, everything is happening according to plan.

“They see us for a short period, but they really haven’t been hands-on since they came here,” Mackey said. “We want them to be wild bears so that they run away like normal bears. They’re not showing any behaviour different from the other cubs.”

Lack of comfort around humans has been central to the cubs’ survival.

They received worldwide attention when Casavant disobeyed an order from his superiors within B.C.’s Ministry of Environment to put them down after their mother was caught ravaging a freezer July 3 in Port Hardy.

He shot the mom as being too habituated to humans for rehabilitation, but determined the cubs did not meet the same standard and could be saved.

Casavant was originally suspended for his actions, then transferred out of the conservation officer service into another department at the same wage. His union grieved that move, asking an arbitrator to reinstate him to his original position.

B.C. Government Employees Union spokesperson Chris Bradshaw said Friday that Casavant’s hearing is being heard in two parts, the first which happened in January, the second which was scheduled for Feb. 6 and 8.

Bradshaw said he couldn’t say when the arbitrator would announce his ruling. In the meantime, Casavant remains employed by the ministry in the north Island area.

Boosted by the support of British comedian Ricky Gervais, an online petition for Casavant’s reinstatement started by Port Hardy’s Vi-Anne Roberts has now passed a total of 309,000 signatures.

Roberts is hopeful the attention will make the ministry adjust the way it does business.

“The only lesson that needs to be learned here is by the government. Policies need to change, and change fast,” she said. “Our conservation officers are out there to ‘conserve’ whenever they can, however they can. Let them do their job morally, accordingly and properly.”

Representatives for the ministry had not responded to questions about the case by the time of this posting, but Roberts has no doubt in her mind about how this situation should conclude.

“I consider what Bryce did for those cubs heroic, yes. He put his job on the line to save those cubs, and paid the ultimate price for doing so. It’s a terrible shame,” she said.

“I’m hoping that once released back into the wild they will adjust well.. and live long, uninterrupted lives.”

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