Hello High Country News readers! You are probably familiar with Russell The Bear and have seen news reports about Russell. He is a young black bear in the Springbank area that suffered an injury to his leg. Many people have contacted us about Russell. The Cochrane Ecological Institute (“CEI”), a very well-respected organization that has been rehabilitating wildlife for about 50 years offered to rehabilitate Russell but was turned down by Alberta Environment as their policy is to leave injured large wildlife such as bears alone for fears they may become habituated to humans and ultimately become a danger to the public. We have spoken to people on both sides of this issue, it is not a simple one, and I am by no means an expert.
Organizations such as CEI are issued permits to rehabilitate injured wild animals. These permits have “Schedule A” attached to them. Basically, Schedule A forbids the rehabilitation of many large animals. Russell has not been seen for a while and we are all hoping that he is now hibernating and will make a full recovery. He has however served as a proxy for a robust discussion about the whole issue of wildlife rehabilitation in Alberta. Currently, Alberta Environment policy as set out in Schedule A is to euthanize orphaned young bears, cougars, elk, and other large wildlife. I have been looking into this and there is a good deal of published research that indicates that rehabilitation conducted by experts such as CEI can care for these orphaned young and successfully return them to their natural habitat without any danger to the public. This is an obvious win-win situation. We recently attended a panel in Redwood Meadows at the invitation of Lisa Dahlseide, a biologist who is passionate about preserving our wild animals. Other presenters included Anna-Marie Ferguson, a great advocate for wolves. There was research presented from places like Idaho that documents successful rehabilitation and reintroduction. I must state for the record that it is imperative that people do not try and capture large wild animals like Russell. We heard reports that some well-intentioned animal lovers tried to put a collar and a leash on Russell to capture him. This is very dangerous and could ultimately hurt both humans and animals alike. These interventions must be conducted by experts. There are several species where euthanization of orphaned young is the rule, including bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars and mule deer. Privately funded organizations like CEI are willing to take on rehabilitation but cannot do so at present as they would lose their permits and thus the many other species they care for would suffer. Is this right? I don’t think so. We will be meeting with stakeholders in the near future to discuss changes in policy to better reflect a balance between legitimate public safety concerns and the preservation of the magnificent wildlife that we share our province with. Let’s get this right. Please contact me at email@example.com and share your thoughts. We are happy to share links to the literature on this issue and the people who are pushing this forward. Bear (no pun intended) in mind that as Lisa said at the meeting, the vast majority of our provincial wildlife officials genuinely care about our wild animals and preservation of their habitat. They are duty bound to follow policy so let’s make sure our policy becomes the high standard that other jurisdictions will try to emulate.
While we are out in the woods so to speak, I would like to say a few words about Lyme disease. There seems to be a collective blindness about Lyme in Alberta. It is not generally tested for because the ticks that carry it “are not in Alberta”. They are, however, in surrounding provinces and states. Who knew ticks could read maps? Even if this were true, a lot of us like to vacation or have friends in these places. A friend of mine recently returned from the USA where he received treatment for Lyme disease that was denied him in Alberta. From this time last year to now, he has gained over 40 pounds, can work again, and has his life back. He looks great. His wife has her husband back and his children have their father back. Imagine having your family literally watch you gradually waste away. That is the situation he was in. He was helped a lot by the generosity of many of his neighbours as travelling to the US for these treatments costs thousands of dollars. People with Lyme should be diagnosed and treated right here in Alberta. Did you know that recent research has shown that the so-called “bulls-eye” rash only occurs in about 30 per cent of tick bite infections? I am planning to advocate for better education, testing, and treatment options in Alberta for Lyme disease and you can help me by sharing your stories. Please contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I would like to thank some very special people. These are my husband and my children who give up their mom/wife on a regular basis for public service. I want to thank Pat Shaw, Peter Tindall’s wonderful wife for giving him up to events and long hours as he tries to keep up with my schedule and keep me on track. Thank you Peter for the tremendous work you do for all of us, and for making sure that I am on time and with the appropriate information so that I am briefed for meetings and the wonderful people I get to meet and work with. I am so grateful for these people, and for their dedication to this province. As always we love to hear from you.