The fate of one black bear cub will depend on whether the province's recently introduced management protocol is updated. Last week, the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) was able to accept its first orphaned black bear cub since the province's policy change. The draft legislation outlines that Fish and Wildlife are permitted to work with wildlife groups to rehabilitate black bear cubs under one year old and then release them back into the wild. However, the current draft protocol could mean Charlie, the rescued cub named after bear enthusiast Charlie Russell, will be released into the wild on Oct. 15 during big game hunting season. Lisa Dahlseide, CEI director of education and volunteer co-ordinator, said this time frame is not ideal. "Studies have shown, and our own studies as well have shown, that if they stay in care as long as they would be with their mom, which is up to two to three years, then they have more success at survival post-release," Dahlseide said. "I'm just working to get the science together to reflect to AEP (Alberta Environment and Parks) that it would be wiser to keep him a little bit longer." Dahlseide said rehabilitation has proven to work for CEI in the past. In 2010, while the ban on cub rehabilitation was still in place, the institute managed to get a temporary shelter permit from AEP to house four orphan bears. "Three had come together, they were orphaned by someone in the spring bear hunt, then a fourth bear came from Charlie Russell. He had been tracking a bear that got separated from his mother over a water body and couldn't pick up the scent to get back across,"Dahlseide said. "That fourth bear was really instrumental because he hadn't had any negative encounters with humans as the first three cubs had had. He really offered that trust and the other three started bottle feeding based on his example and they did really well." The four cubs were released in their second year of hibernation. "We encouraged them to sleep in a portable den - in this case they were sleeping in a bear trap actually, and then Alberta Environment and Parks came and propped that bear trap in the back of their truck and we drove them out to a very remote location in Nordegg," Dahlseide said. "We took the door off the trap, packed it with snow and sticks and when they woke up in the spring they were out in the wild." "That's what we would like to push for as an alternative to releasing them on Oct. 15, which would be more of a hard release." Currently, Charlie is being bottle fed four to five litres of goat milk per day by director CEI Mike Curtis, the only human to have contact with the cub. The change in policy comes after public outcry when a number of orphaned bears found in the province needing assistance were denied help due to the ban in place. Most notably were the three cubs found in a public bathroom in Banff National Park as well as an injured bear in a field outside of Calgary. Dahlseide said the CEI is also pushing for another black bear population survey to be done. In Alberta, the last black bear estimate was conducted in 1993. "Alberta Environment and Parks is currently managing black bears based on that same number 25 years ago, making the assumption that the pop hasn't decreased at all despite the increase in hunting tags that have gone out and the increase in loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation," Dahlseide said.
Alberta Environment and Parks said they will work with the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI), following existing protocols, and while keeping in mind the best interest of the animal.
"We will also consider what is feasible to ensure the animal’s safe release and its best chance of long-term survival, while minimizing habituation," said Olav Rokne, communications Advisor on behahlf of EAP.
"No province-wide black bear study is currently being conducted. More than 40,000 black bears live in Alberta. In a given year, approximately 10,000 black bear cubs are born. Recent inventory work in northeast and southwest Alberta indicates black bear populations are either growing or have stabilized."