Wildlife deaths trigger call for body cams on conservation officers

body cams conservation officers Photo by Lutsenko_Oleksandr/Shutterstock

B.C. environmental group Pacific Wild is calling for more oversight of conservation officers after B.C.’s provincial government released the number of bears and cougars killed over the past eight years.

An audit released in December reviewed bear activity in the summer and fall of 2019 and cited more than 700 inspections, 75 warnings, and 355 orders for property owners to remove bear attractants. According to the government, conservation officers killed 4,341 black bears, 162 grizzly bears and 780 cougars over the last eight years.

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In response, Pacific Wild sent an open letter to Environment Minister George Heyman calling for the government to put accountability tactics in place, and maintain independent oversight.

“Ensuring there are accountability mechanisms in place for all of our policing services is just good practice,” said Bryce Casavantto, spokesperson for Pacific Wild. “If we look to other jurisdictions, not just in the U.S. but to our closest neighbour Alberta, we see that policing is, generally, progressing into the era of post-incident reviews.”

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Minister Heyman has described human-wildlife conflict as a “serious issue” in the province and, in a statement, said that “not a single conservation officer relishes the thought of having to put down an animal, which is always a last resort for public safety.”

Given the recent statistics, Casavantto said he disagrees that euthanasia is being used as a last resort.

“The sentiment that people leaving trash has habituated the bears and forced conservation officers to kill them, just isn’t accurate,” he said. “There has been no explosion of bears, but as urban areas expand, we’re continually encroaching on their land which results in more sightings.”

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In their letter, Pacific Wild is calling for the implementation of cameras by April 1, 2020.  Casavantto said they chose April because that is when new budgets are proposed and wants to ensure that this is seen as a priority ahead of summer when these human-bear conflicts tend to arise.

“It is always the officer who is responsible for pulling the trigger on a service weapon. Sometimes using force in a situation is justified and sometimes it’s not,” he said.

“When we talk about accountability, and one of the reasons we are advocating for dash cameras and body cameras, is so they are able to provide that level of oversight and review capability, regardless of if the situation involves wildlife or a human.”

The Ministry of Environment has not yet responded to the letter.

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