Wildlife rehab concerned over Alberta Parks plan to release abandoned bear

Plans to release an abandoned black bear next week in Ghost Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ) are being questioned by the wildlife group that rehabilitated the animal. 

Alberta Environment and Parks says it will evaluate other potential release sites after hearing concerns

Siksi'naan rests his chin on a tree branch. The black bear cub, who was left in the parking lot of the Cochrane Ecological Institute, is set to be released this week into the wild. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Plans to release an abandoned black bear next week in Ghost Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ) are being questioned by the wildlife group that rehabilitated the animal. 

Siksi'naam has been under the care of the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI), a wildlife rehabilitation charity, since the cub was left in the charity's parking lot in a box this past spring.

This week, Alberta Environment and Parks plans to sedate the bear, collar him, and bring him to his new home, somewhere in the 1,500-square-kilometre public lands located east of Banff National Park.

Clio Smeeton, president of CEI, is concerned the time and location of the bear's release won't set him up for success.

"If you release this time of year, the bear does not know where it is, does not know where to find food, does not know where to find somewhere to hibernate, may be predated upon by big bears who are looking for something to eat, to add to their winter weight, and may be shot if you put it in an area that's being hunted during the hunting season," she said.

"So those are all things that that bear will have to survive in order to live through to 2021."

The Cochrane Ecological Institute is expressing concerns over Alberta Parks' plan to release a black bear into a public land use zone this week. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Smeeton said parts of the PLUZ are highly trafficked by campers, ATV drivers and hunters. 

Smeeton said she would rather see the bear released in an artificial den or insulated hibernating box, and not during this time of year.

"The decision to put a bear ... in a multi-use area full of people that's adjacent to three large towns ... is not logical and it's like setting it up for failure," she said. 

John Muir, communications director for Alberta Environment and Parks, said Albertans' concerns have been heard and the province is evaluating a few other potential release sites.

"We want to assure Albertans that regardless of where the bear is released, it will be in a remote setting as far away from people as possible," he said in an emailed statement. 

Muir said under normal circumstances, bears are released into the area where they're found, but since it's not known where this bear came from, the department had chosen a location. 

"For bear releases, our top priority is always the well-being of the animal. We look for areas with good habitat and remote settings away from people. The Ghost Recreation Land Zone was chosen because it meets both of those requirements."

Muir said release locations are not made public in order to give bears the best possible chance of survival and prevent potential contact with humans, and that the bear will be collared so the department can track its well-being after its release.

Last year, an orphaned bear was shot and killed just weeks after it was released into the wild, after wandering near children on private land. 

The government had said it had concerns over abnormal behaviour the male bear demonstrated, including how habituated he seemed to people before he was killed, something the CEI, which cared for the bear, disputed.

The CEI had successfully pushed the province for a delayed release, saying the bear would have a greater chance of survival if he were older, and said the release was still much too soon.

With files from Helen Pike


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