When one conservation officer refused to kill a pair of bear cubs, he thought he’d made the correct decision. However, not everyone agreed with his benevolent actions, and as a result, he ended up paying a heavy price.
Bryce Casavant worked as a conservation officer in British Columbia, Canada. As part of his job, it was Casavant’s duty to enforce the province’s laws relating to wildlife – a role that he took very seriously.
In July 2015, bosses tasked Casavant’s unit with taking care of an unruly black bear. Time and again, the animal had raided a freezer in Port Hardy in search of food, and so conservation services decided that the bear was too accustomed to humans.
Officers were consequently ordered to dispose of the bear, and although it wasn’t a nice task to complete, they did so willingly. Casavant, however, was determined that the same fate would not befall the mother bear’s babies.
Yes, alongside the adult bear were two cubs that were only eight weeks old. As the baby bears were so young, Casavant concluded that they were not yet habituated to humans. He therefore defied his seniors’ orders and refused to shoot the cubs.
Instead, Casavant transferred the cubs to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, a non-profit organization that cares for sick and orphaned local wildlife. Furthermore, the center rehabilitates animals before re-releasing them into the wild.
So, with that in mind, Casavant felt like he’d done the right thing – both morally and for the cubs. However, his bosses did not agree and suspended Casavant from his job that very same month.
In fact, bosses decided that Casavant wouldn’t ever be able to return to his job. Instead, the Conservation Officer Service transferred him to a new position. Intriguingly, however, it denied that its actions were disciplinary measures against Casavant for not shooting the cubs.
British Columbia Public Service Agency spokesperson Jamie Edwardson defended the department’s actions. He said that Casavant had been switched to a similar position to the one he had held. This meant that the officer would have the same salary and had the option to retrain.
According to him, the reshuffle would prove a positive experience for Casavant, rather than a punishment. “We value the contributions of all public service employees,” Edwardson said in a statement on Change.org. “We want all employees to be successful.”
But the Public Service Agency’s explanation didn’t wash with Casavant or his union representatives. According to his union president, Stephanie Smith, the decision surprised Casavant. “He takes his role as a steward of our natural resources and our wildlife very seriously,” Smith said.
Smith also confirmed the union would file a grievance against the transfer. “Officer Casavant was transferred out of his position as a conservation officer, a career path that he had chosen for himself. So, we believe that that is disciplinary,” she said.
Moreover, Smith stood by Casavant’s original decision not to shoot the cubs. “We believe that Officer Casavant was following prescribed policies and procedures when he made the decision not to kill the baby bears without doing a proper risk assessment,” Smith said.
And it wasn’t just his union that came out in support of Casavant. A petition set up campaigning for the Ministry of Environment to reinstate the officer proved immensely popular. Since going live, more than 300,000 people have added their name on Change.org.
As a result, Casavant became something of a hero in the conservation world, and his fight made headlines around the globe. He even won some celebrity support from comedian and animal lover Ricky Gervais. “Reinstate this honorable man,” the star tweeted to his 12 million followers in 2015.
But despite overwhelming support in his favor, Casavant abandoned his fight to get his job back in April 2016. Instead, he accepted a new job within the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“People make difficult decisions every day in their lives. I stood by my decision. I was willing to be held accountable professionally and legally for that decision,” he told CTV Vancouver Island. “I was supported by both the public and the union through that, and now at the end, also in furthering my own personal goals and aspirations.”
He also started a doctorate at Royal Roads University, picking a research topic very close to his heart. “My field is in the social aspects of conflict wildlife,” he revealed. “I think I’ll be able to do just as much good in my personal life through research and academic furtherance as I would as a CO.”
Since then, things have only got better for Casavant. In January 2017 he announced that he was embarking on a political career, standing as a candidate for British Columbia’s New Democratic Party. And although he will no doubt champion wildlife, NDP leader John Horgan assured voters Casavant was not a one-issue candidate.
As for the two bears, they embraced their second shot at life. They spent a year in rehabilitation before returning to the wild in the summer of 2016. So, it seems that everything worked out for all parties in the end.