Good morning! Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
Grizzly bears are some of the most ferocious animals on the planet, with front limbs so powerful, a single swipe can take out a mountain lion or a moose. They also have a sense of smell that is 100 times more powerful than a human’s.
Sometimes, that sense of smell leads them into a community garbage dump and for most bears, that is a death trap. “Habituated” bears are, as a matter of policy, destroyed for fear of an eventual deadly interaction with a person.
Last month, a young grizzly bear’s early spring swim in the Broughton Archipelago may have ensured that isn’t the de facto fate of all bears.
Mali, as the local Indigenous community has named him, was estimated by scientists to be about three and newly awakened from hibernation on the mainland. Hungry and likely pushed out of his home territory by more dominant bears, he took to the water and arrived on Hanson Island, one among the maze of islands in the archipelago at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
The Broughton, as Nancy Macdonald recounts today, isn’t a native home for grizzlies, but Mali, like others before him, can find enough food there to sustain them until the salmon start to run in late summer.
Mali also found a pile of garbage improperly stored by a cottage owner. It should have been a death sentence.
But Mali was on the traditional territory of the Mamalilikulla First Nation and Chief Richard Sumner and his community would not allow conservation officers to fire a shot.
Mike Willie, a hereditary chief of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Nation who grew up in nearby Kingcome and who now runs a bear-viewing tourism outfit, Sea Wolf Adventures, was similarly determined not to allow this bear to die.
He and a team of others – fellow tour operator Tim McGrady, who owns Farewell Harbour Lodge, the Grizzly Bear Foundation and chiefs Sumner and Douglas Neasloss, former chief of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation – had already been meeting with B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, arguing that the provincial wildlife act was in need of an overhaul to include First Nations input.
Science has its place, Willie told the minister. “So do the cultural values that have formed and shaped our interaction with these territories for 14,000 years," he added. "That also needs a place at the table.”
A different approach was mapped out, including prioritizing co-existence with the bears, Willie explained.
The new approach was tested only a few days later with Mali’s arrival. Conservation officers ordered the bear destroyed. Not an option, Sumner responded.
B.C.’s conservation officer in charge of the province’s West Coast, Insp. Ben York, was called in and after hours of discussions, including with Heyman, York told Sumner: “We’ll try your way.”
Mali was to be moved, not killed. It took two days, but on April 13, Mali was airlifted to an inlet in the Great Bear Rainforest where he woke from the sedative and started eating sedge grass and mussels, the proper diet for a hungry young bear.
I wish this story had ended there. When Nancy wrote it, it had ended there, with Mali in his new home.
But late last week, Nancy got word that Mali had been shot and killed only 10 days after his release. He had gone for another swim and wound up on a tiny island where he came upon a resident and his barking dog. The resident shot the bear.
A grief-stricken Willie says Mali’s fate underlines more than ever the need for a “new collaborative” wildlife-management process, one that includes educating residents about the use of bear spray, rubber bullets and managing all kinds of attractants.
“We failed Mali,” Willie says.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
INSIDE VANCOUVER HOSPTIALS: Since the coronavirus pandemic’s tipping point in March, doctors, paramedics and nurses have been doing their best to save lives. Six Vancouver medical frontline workers, including an anesthesiologist doing intubations in an ICU, a infectious diseases specialist, a head of emergency medicine, a nurse and two paramedics, shared their diaries with The Globe and Mail’s Ian Bailey, capturing the struggle in an intimate and emotional way.
METHANE EMISSIONS: Alberta’s energy minister says her government is “extremely close” to securing an agreement with Ottawa that will allow the province to take control of methane emissions. Alberta has wrestled with the federal government for years to secure equivalency of its methane emission-reduction regulations, which propose a 45-per-cent reduction of 2014 levels by 2025. Sasaktchewan has already reached its own equivalency agreement.
B.C. HOMELESS: British Columbia will move hundreds of residents from three homeless encampments in Vancouver and Victoria into hotels, the government says, citing increased safety concerns because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said the transition to hotel rooms is voluntary but that the encampments at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, and Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue in Victoria, will be dismantled by May 9 under a public-safety order.
FLOODING: Fort McMurray is dealing with three crises all at the same time – the collapse of oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now widespread flooding that has forced evacuations and left much of the town underwater. The flooding, which was caused by a 25-kilometre ice jam, has forced 12,000 people to flee their homes. The local municipality has called on the federal government to step in with help.
DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE TESTING: Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) considers the Downtown Eastside community a priority population because of increased risks of virus transmission and severe disease because of issues such as homelessness, drug use and underlying health conditions. As such, health officials have proactively tested as many people with mild symptoms as possible, similar to protocols in long-term care facilities. As a result, the testing rate is more than twice that of the general population in the VCH region: 40.8 tests for every 1,000 people, compared with 15.9 tests for every 1,000 people. (British Columbia’s testing rate is 11.6 tests for every 1,000 people.) Of those tested in the Downtown Eastside, 1.6 per cent are positive. For the general population in the VCH region, it’s 4.2 per cent.
SASKATCHEWAN COVID DEATH: A fifth person in Saskatchewan has died from COVID-19. Heath officials say the resident was in his 80s and lived in the province’s north, which is dealing with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre confirmed on Sunday that the person was a member of his community. The provincial government has announced 12 new cases of COVID-19, bringing Saskatchewan’s total to 365. It says nearly all of the new cases are from the far north, many around La Loche.
ROOMMATE MEDIATION: A non-profit organization in British Columbia is offering mediation for the many roommates now spending 24/7 with each other, as well as the apartment dwellers, both renters and owners, faced with daily decisions about breathing each other’s air and touching common surfaces. The free “quarantine conflict resolution service” is a branch of Mediate BC that launched recently as an expansion of its existing services (typically workplace and family conflicts).
ALBERTA DOCTORS: The Alberta government has reversed course on changes to doctor billing that prompted rural physicians to close up shop. The issue is part of a long-running dispute between Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the province’s doctors, and the retreat on billing appears to have done little to repair that relationship.
LLOYDMINSTER: The City of Lloydminster’s location straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary has forced the local government to decide which pandemic measures, such as physical distancing, to follow. As Saskatchewan prepares to reopen some businesses on May 19, Lloydminster says it will follow that plan for the entire town – even parts that sit on the Alberta side of the boundary.
MANITOBA TESTING: The Manitoba government is expanding COVID-19 testing as it prepares to reopen the economy. From now on, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, such as a cough and runny nose, can get tested as long as they’re referred by a clinician, Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday. Pallister is to reveal Wednesday his plan to start easing restrictions on people and businesses.
INDIGENOUS LAND RIGHTS: The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says it remains committed to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The lobbying organization for the oil industry says it has asked for a meeting on the issue with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who wrote a strongly worded letter that warned ignoring First Nations land rights creates court challenges.
NON-BINARY BIRTH CERTIFICATES: Manitobans will soon have a non-binary gender option on birth certificates. The province is allowing the third option in addition to “male” or “female” on official birth documents. The Progressive Conservative government says people will also have the option of not selecting any sex designation on birth and death certificates, once a bill currently before the legislature is passed into law. Last November, a human-rights adjudicator ordered the province to pay $50,000 to a transgender individual, who wanted the sex designation on their birth certificate replaced with an “X,” but was denied.
Justine Hunter on tree planting in the pandemic: “There is a unique challenge ahead. Many of B.C.’s Indigenous communities are actively discouraging visitors right now. To keep COVID-19 infections from coming into their communities, where health-care resources are scarce, 87 First Nations in British Columbia have imposed self-isolation measures, with checkpoints or roadblocks in place to keep visitors out.”
Camille Labchuk on the Vancouver Aquarium: “There may be many things we simply can’t go back to after the pandemic eases up, and the current model of zoos and aquariums should be among them. For the Vancouver Aquarium, the enduring legacy of this pandemic should be reinvention – not business as usual.”
Chief Greg Desjarlais on First Nations and the oil-and-gas industry: “Even those First Nations who aren’t directly involved in oil-and-gas activities will be severely impacted by the downturn in the energy industry. Many First Nations’ economic development corporations have diversified toward transportation, tourism and hospitality. The reduction in industry spending on conferences, business travel and catering will affect them significantly.”