British Columbia

Sterilized squirrels win life or death fight with province

They're invasive, and they're sterile. But a small group of rehabilitated squirrels has nonetheless emerged victorious in a David-and-Goliath battle for their lives with the province of British Columbia.

Tribunal slams wildlife manager for 'harsh' policy that put rehabilitated animal lives on the line

Eastern grey squirrels may be invasive, but rehabilitation facilities argue that once they've been sterilized, they pose no threat of spreading. (bcinvasives.ca)

They're invasive, and they're sterile.

But a small group of rehabilitated squirrels has nonetheless emerged victorious in a David-and-Goliath battle for their lives with the province of British Columbia.

B.C.'s Environmental Appeal Board has slammed a Vancouver Island wildlife manager for adopting a policy that would have forced a Victoria wildlife rehabilitation centre to euthanize hundreds of animals it normally releases into the wild.

The animals in question — grey squirrels, starlings, cottontail rabbits — are admittedly some of the most invasive and irritating creatures in existence.

But the B.C. SPCA.-run facility argued that, if let stand, the policy could result in chaos, with the public engaging in renegade rodent rehabilitation rather than letting squirrels die.

"For some unknown reason, the regional manager applied a new policy to the appellant's facility without advance notice, without a transitional plan for the animals currently in the facility and without any plan for public education," the appeal board's decision reads.

"The manner in which this was implemented, and the way that the appellant has been treated throughout this process, has been inconsiderate, procedurally unfair — even harsh."

But we've been sterilized!!

According to the decision, the SPCA's Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre (Wild ARC) has been receiving permits to release non-native invasive species back into the wild since 2006.

In the case of the eastern grey squirrels, the animals had to be sterilized and tagged prior to release.

Here's a different kind of invasive squirrel! A ground squirrel (not an invasive eastern grey squirrel) jumps up and is caught in a time-delayed photo of Melissa Brandts and her husband in Banff National Park. (Melissa Brandts)

But in 2015, the regional manager of recreational fish and wildlife programs with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources denied the permit, citing policy, but without providing a basis for the change in position.

The Victoria facility was joined in its appeal by the Wildlife Rehabilitators Network of B.C., a non-profit organization which represents licensed rehabilitation facilities around the province.

In 2014, Wild ARC released 72 sterilized eastern grey squirrels, 98 eastern cottontail rabbits, 23 rock doves, 42 house sparrows and 22 European starlings.

The groups argued that the numbers of animals involved were small and since the squirrels were sterilized, they presented no danger in terms of reproduction; if anything, they would be competing with others for food.

Irritating, no matter what

The government was criticized for failing to provide a rationale for the policy at the time the permit was denied.

But in an affidavit to the tribunal, ministry wildlife biologist Sean Pendergast said invasive species shouldn't be encouraged in any way.

He said he "has received many calls from individuals who are upset that grey squirrels have become established in their communities, and who have spent thousands of dollars trying to prevent them from causing damage to homes and gardens."

Pendergast claimed allowing rehabilitation and release was confusing to the public and "puts unneeded stress on already at-risk native species and ecosystems."

In siding with the rehabilitation facility, the appeal board said that the government has been inconsistent in its approach to the issue and should come up with new regulations concerning release of animals.

The original permit which was the subject of the decision would have expired by now, so the board asked the government to consider the ruling in relation to any new permits.

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