A Very Personal Message to Each of IBBR’s Supporters and to All Who Care About Bears
Last Friday, I was working through the night on the “Essence of Bear” quilt raffle. I kept smiling each time I saw our lovely bear sprawled out on the log wishing I could join him and take a nap - what a soft bed he would be. What a shredded mess I would be when he was done with me. Then in the evening about 9pm came the first e-mail about a burned bear in WA with no rehab facility to take him and more e-mails following that into the wee hours. Thank you so much to every one of you who makes it point to e-mail or tell us when a bear needs help. Don’t assume we know and please continue to share if you see or know something about a cub in need. It may be beyond our ability to help, but we will always try in whatever ways we can.
There were no smiles on my face after that. I had already been trying to figure out how we could get that cub to IBBR, knowing already that Idaho F&G would say no. Then another e-mail came with the news I so did not want to hear. With no place to go the cub had been euthanized. Sadly, the conversation is over for this bear, but it is just beginning for other bears like him.
IBBR Board member and past wildlife rehabilitator, Valerie LeBoeuf posted on our Facebook more detailed information on what has been going on in the world of bear rehab in Idaho since 2009. We want all our supporters and friends of bears to have a better understanding of what we face from here forward as we speak out. Valerie has been working on behalf of IBBR for a few years to make needed changes for bears and to put the focus on rehab instead of zoos. She has encouraged bear management to include rehab as an option for orphaned/injured cubs. She has used her own personal time and her many talents and skills to present at the bear workshops to educate everyone working with bears about bears in rehab and the rehab process. She does an excellent job and will continue with those efforts.
IBBR is now entering a new phase and course of action to make those changes happen, especially here in Idaho. Valerie agreed to collaborate with me on those actions, be the media spokesperson, and handle the Idaho F&G meetings. You have already seen a few postings as she prepares for IBBR to step forward. Short of the actual bear rehab, presenting at the bear workshops is one of the most important jobs we have to make changes. Today we start our next course of action - today we have one dead bear too many so the time is now.
Valerie will continue to post and speak to the situation as we move through the process. We hope that you, the public with stand with us as we move forward and help us make the changes needed. I’m sharing my thoughts today as we move forward and as the person who has most observed the impact on bears, on bear rehab, and on IBBR since 2009. I may be putting myself and IBBR at risk of retaliation, but as I said we have one more dead bear - one too many bears that we have not been allowed to help when we could so easily have done so. Be it this bear or the other two previous bears Idaho F&G recently refused to let come to IBBR, it is time to stand up for all the bears, for all of us who put our hearts and souls into this, for all of you who donate, support, encourage, care about bears, and keep us going.
For me this is not about the right words and/or what we now face in speaking out. For me it is about the bears we wanted to help and could help, but were not allowed to help. I’m speaking out for the dead WA bear and others like him who struggled to survive, who sought help, all of whom we failed. I personally live with each of those bears in my thoughts, not just for a few days, but for years. The one sibling who was brought in and the one who was left behind; the most precious cub who showed up looking for help & the people were told by Idaho F&G to leave it alone and it would go away....while they anguished at his condition and chance of survival and I personally agonized for weeks until I knew it was too late; the last two cubs Idaho F&G refused to let IBBR take; and others I know about from public calls seeking help for them from IBBR; and now this dead cub who could have come to IBBR, but for Idaho FG’s agenda - their continued refusal to let us take the bears that we had room for and were prepared to help recover and gain their second chance at freedom in spring. Why? Why? Why? We all ask that - is it the personal agendas - red tape - egos - politics - anti-predator attitudes, or just a need to control every aspect of wildlife rehab that they know nothing about.
I’ve had enough so I’m speaking out. This is a long message (about 7 years’ worth), but one I hope you will read to the end so you understand the issues are important, complicated, and many. IBBR is here to save bears needing help. We have always tried to maintain a cooperative working relationship with the officers and the agencies in all states. I have a great deal of respect for many of them we have worked with and this posting is not intended for those officers in the field. IBBR has lived with the Idaho F&G agenda since 2009 and I’m done. As Founder and President of IBBR, and after 27 years of proven successful rehab and release, it needs to stop. We tried working with it, we tried working alternatives, we tried assisting placement with other qualified bear rehabilitators we knew would put the welfare of the bear first, and we tried to meet with Idaho F&G to address our concerns. They repeatedly dismissed our concerns for the most part with no solid science, data, or knowledge to back up their agenda. They spoke to our board and members as if they were a bunch of bunny lovers not worth consideration.
The e-mails I read this past week were asking why couldn’t we take this bear? What amount of donations would it take for IBBR to accept the bear? What could they do to get the bear to IBBR? While we do need donations to support bear rehab and sometimes there are tough times, I can guarantee you as the one making those decisions, it has NEVER been about money. There have been times when I knew the call would come for a bear in need and the money just wasn’t there. I knew I wouldn’t say no to the bear. There have been times over the years when I had no idea where the food would come from for even the next day. Yet miracles always happened, the food came, the bear arrived, it worked out somehow. I have never said no to a bear in need, but Idaho F&G has refused to let IBBR take a bear or bears even when we had room. Why you ask?
Idaho F&G has their own agenda and that agenda is not putting the welfare or needs of the bear first although they claim it does. That agenda is not taking into consideration the other state agencies preference in using IBBR to rehab their orphaned/injured cubs. That agenda does not account for the fact that neither the Idaho F&G management, the biologists, or the state wildlife veterinarians are experienced or knowledgeable in bear rehab or wildlife rehab in general. They have plenty of specialized knowledge, but not about bear or wildlife rehab. They haven’t done it, they haven’t tried to learn from those doing the job, and no matter how or what they say to portray they have the experience, it is a fact they do not! The individual means nothing and isn’t important to the population in many cases so, live or die, it doesn’t matter. While the single bear or wild animal can mean everything to an endangered or threatened population, that isn’t a consideration for Idaho F&G. A single bear in need does mean something to a caring and compassionate society & to IBBR, but there is little compassion with those who manage our wildlife. I always thought they worked for the public, but apparently they do not as they don’t seem to listen to the public.
Below are many of the issues we face trying to rehab bears in Idaho
F&G personnel are not trained in bear rehab or any wildlife rehab
They haven’t done it in most cases except maybe for a day or two. Why would they be the ones to establish rehab guidelines or decide if a cub lived or died without even including the rehabilitators who are experienced and do the work? Because they are biologists, or management, or deal with population control and hunting doesn’t make them experienced in bear rehab. Makes about as much sense as putting me in charge of managing bear populations. Even working with bears for 27 years, I know nothing about managing bear populations. However, I do know all about bears in rehab, their stages of development, what to expect during each stage, their behavior throughout rehab, their personalities, and their needs as they grow from cub to yearling. Even common sense tells you if you don’t do the job, if you don’t learn, if you don’t put in the time doing that work, you won’t have the experience. Why would anyone charge that person with writing guidelines for that job - especially when bears lives are at stake. Why don’t we ask them - how many bears have you rehabbed? Not how many have you authorized to go into rehab, but how many have you hands on rehabbed?
In 2009 F&G established their bear protocol of rehab guidelines for bears.
We were able to convince them to meet with us twice to discuss our concerns. One of the most unbelievable statements I ever heard was from a long time Idaho F&G person who said “Well I don’t know what there is to learn after 20 years”. I was both stunned and at the same time knew that said it all for the agenda and attitudes we faced. After working with rehab bears for so many years, we rehabilitators were considered a nuisance and just a bunch of bunny lovers playing with wildlife and were dealt with accordingly. In Idaho, they dismiss any knowledge or experience if it won’t fit into their agenda. Rehabilitators are just a temporary convenience to stash an animal. That agenda seems to be “you do what we say, when we say, how we say to rehab bears and forget about what you know is best for the bear. Well, on behalf of IBBR and one recently dead bear, I refused to do that in the past and still continue to refuse today and in the future. As a result IBBR has become more of an irritant than a nuisance to them. Retaliation – who knows. Idaho F&G doesn’t back up their so called agenda or protocol with facts, data, science, knowledge, or experience. They quote people and organizations as supporting their protocol who have not and do not support it and quite the opposite, have criticized it. They make statements that have no basis in fact or documentation and clearly are disputed by both experienced wildlife and bear rehabilitators and even those working daily with bears in various projects around the world. They claim to have the expertise of one of the top black bear experts in the country and one I respect. Yet his publications about bear rehab often seem to contradict many of their rehab guidelines.
Their agenda guarantees only Idaho F&G knows how many bears are helped
IBBR does not know and the public (for whom they work?) does not know how many bears in need do not get help. They have complete control over what they choose to do or not do to help cubs in need and it’s all done without any accountability on their part to anyone. Officers in Idaho and other states are ordered not to call or even talk to IBBR first (or sometimes at all) so we don’t know if a cub gets help or not. They are only allowed to call Idaho F&G. Just because Idaho F&G agreed to put some bears in rehab, does not mean there are not and have not been others left to suffer and/or die, some of which I know about from public calls to IBBR seeking help. If there is room, and there is, do they get to play the Supreme Being & decide if a bear is helped or it is okay if they save 3 - 5 - 8 and let rest suffer whatever fate? They are in charge of managing wildlife and populations, ,but there is not much compassion for or willingness to help the individual bear or wildlife on the part of the Idaho agency. Many officers are able, willing, and want to help, but they have no decision - the agency dictates. Totally unacceptable and totally in line with the agenda!
Idaho F&G states they need to know how many bears are in rehab
In a recent interview Idaho F&G was quoted as saying they had to know how many bears were in rehab, hence the agenda/protocol requiring the officers to call only Idaho F&G. I don’t know who was doing bear rehab beside IBBR and wasn’t reporting it, but it certainly was not IBBR. Prior to their 2009 agenda, the officer called IBBR to see if we could take the cub, IBBR called & notified Idaho F&G of every single bear immediately, then processed the paperwork for any import permits, then paid the $23.50 import permit, then sent our transport team to pick up the bear from the officer. All this was handled usually within 24 hours and the bear was safely in rehab. They always knew if they cared to keep track of how many bears IBBR had and where they came from. Today if IBBR is allowed to take a bear, with few exceptions we wait days to get the okay to send our transport team even though the procedure in notifying them still happens immediately & there are multiply contact names on the list who are notified at Idaho F&G. Now the bears sit in some office with people gawking at them or in an officer’s garage waiting - and waiting - and waiting. In addition we send reports at the end of the year with information on the number, sex, and disposition of each bear.
Idaho F&G will tell you IBBR only has room to rehab 6-7 bears
Their agenda is based on the National Wildlife Rehab minimum housing. They have stated since 2009 that is what they used to decide how many bears IBBR can handle despite the fact we handled many more than that successfully over the years. Since 2009 we had to live with it.....until we found out from the NWRA & IWRC (Int’l) that agencies are misinterpreting it and taking it out of context to fit their own agendas. We have it in writing and we spoke to those organizations on the phone. Now that we have challenged Idaho F&G on it, they suddenly state they aren’t using the NWRA or IWRC, but their own defined minimum housing. Or course we all know it can’t be based on their years of hands on experience and knowledge of bear rehab. They have held us to invalid guidelines since 2009 that were established without any input from the very rehabilitators doing the work - only their own perceived ideas of what will fit their agenda and their needs.
Over the past 27 years, IBBR has managed to rehab many more than 6-7 bears at a time
23, 50, 32 bears over a year and a half period. Those bears were happy, healthy, knew they were bears, quite content and happy wrestling and chasing - no fights or squabbles and they released successfully. Isn’t the healthy physical and mental condition of the bears and eventual successful release what rehab is about? Shouldn’t the professionals doing the work be the ones to determine how many bears they can handle? Idaho Fish & Game appears to be limiting bear rehab to only one facility & forcing agencies to use that facility or no rehab. No one wants too many bears. IBBR would welcome as many bear rehabilitators as can rehab bears as long as the welfare of each bear is the priority – no bulk bear rehab. The more the merrier and then no bear would be turned away. However, when there is an emergency year, IBBR will step up just as hospitals do and make it work. We are not a sanctuary with permanent facilities - it is temporary & we humans are the ones that suffer in those situations. One year before we got our solid roof covering the entire main enclosure, in spring the rains would come and we would go out to feed and clean. I can’t prove it, but enough bears went tearing past me at full speed in the muck and mud that I swear they laid in wait just to do that. What is more amusing is if bears could laugh, they were laughing. It was one of their favorite games to drown us in all the muck & mud. We raised the funds and put a stop to those bear games the next year. Sorry bears.
IBBR does not believe in bulk bear rehab.
Even in emergency years with many bears and it was part of the reality, even then our priority was the needs and well-being of each bear. We monitored them visually while feeding and cleaning and we monitored them with our camera system 20-21 hours a day. We believe in rehabilitation for each bear individually. Each bear has their own personality, behavior, moods, and needs and we focus on that. I was told one year by an ID F&G person to use a stun gun or cattle prod on bottle babies so they would be afraid of me as their foster mother. Is that what rehab is about - striking pain and fear in a tiny cub and worse yet doing it as the foster mother. There was no valid reason for that action as bottle babies like other bears released successfully. That never happened and never will. If that is what they perceive is part of bear rehab, I think we can all agree the experience and knowledge is sorely lacking in the very people determined to control bear rehab.
We are a non-profit, but we are also a business.
Our clients are other state agencies who do not have a bear rehabilitator or have more bears than they can handle in some years. We have taken bears into our rehab program from WY, NV, CA, WA, OR, UT, and of course ID. In 2009 Idaho F&G dictated that Idaho bears would go to another facility. IBBR was to handle the Idaho bottle babies and intensive care bears which that facility was not prepared to take. At 6 months we were supposed to transfer the bears to another facility where they neither knew the bears, treated them as individuals, or we felt offered the best care. IBBR refused - if we are responsible for a bear, we are responsible to see it through all the stages of development and to release - in the best interest of the bear. Idaho F&G then dictated that Idaho and out of state bears couldn’t be at the same facility - why? Diseases, but the only diseases they could come up with were mites. Mites aren’t a disease, all bears have them and it’s treatable - something that rehab does routinely. Never mind that we have successfully cared for bears from different states for 10 years with no disease or problems. This new action resulted in other states being left without rehab options. So, we then expected that the other facility would take the Idaho bears and IBBR would help out of state bears. However, now Idaho F&G is giving the ok for the other facility to take both Idaho and out of state bears in their agenda to strong arm everyone to use that facility. We also hear that Idaho F&G has questioned other states’ decisions or needs to put a bear in rehab. Furthermore Idaho F&G began trying to force other wildlife agencies to use a facility they didn’t want to use. Instead of inter-agency cooperation, it sounded more like inter-agency inquisition. Personally I am appalled by these actions.
IBBR has had strong working relationships with other state agencies that are being undermined by Idaho F&G. These agencies/officers trusted us, our methods and proven successful releases. They want to use IBBR to rehab their bears. Idaho F&G is telling them they cannot use IBBR & have to use another facility they do not want to use. Those agencies we have worked with previously are still wanting to know when or if IBBR thinks we can take their bears? A government agency is disregarding the expertise of the personnel in another agency, trying to strong arm them to use a facility they did not want to use or send the bears to zoos, or euthanize them. It was infuriating that agencies and officers are not allowed to call IBBR, to take advantage of our experience. They are/were told they can’t use their preferred facility - interfering with our relationship and communications with our clients, and making it difficult to do our job.
IBBR has always abided by the import guidelines for out of state bears
We have always called Idaho F&G for approval, processed the paperwork immediately, and even on most occasions hand delivered the $23.50 import permit fee. We would like to have a good cooperative working relationship with Idaho F&G once again. However, it is a two way street and when the last communication was “we aren’t going to change our minds” after requesting meetings that were clearly of no importance to them, we find ourselves now moving onto another street.
Another dead bear we failed and it has to stop. Idaho F&G needs to get out of the business of pretending to be bear rehabilitators, to respect and recognize the rehab methods based on knowledge and experience of those doing the job, to create a rehab program that works for the rehabilitators, the other state agencies who want to use us, and more importantly based on the individual needs of each bear. IBBR needs to be at the forefront of decisions to determine how many bears we can handle and not be judged based some arbitrary numbers that fits their agenda or prioritizes one facility over another as part of their agenda. State agencies should be allowed to use the rehab facility they feel is best and proven for them. Officers should be allowed to communicate with IBBR whenever they wish - communication should flow freely.
What IBBR will or won't do now comes from 27 years in bear rehab
We learn (yes even after 20 years which is apparently the limit for learning according to Idaho F&G) from our experience with each bear every year, from working with other bear rehabilitators, sharing and learning from each other. If it is not what we know to be best for the bear, I am not going to meekly say to Idaho F&G, “whatever you say”. Therein lies the rub - they want to force us to do what is not best for the bear and because we refuse that undermines the personal agendas, the control, the egos. Our reputation is solid in the world of bear rehab and with those who work with bears in other arenas. I’m not trying to toot my own horn as to the experience and knowledge, but I worked hard during the past 27 years for that knowledge and experience. I paid my dues and just because I earned it hands on and it didn’t come from a college degree in bear rehab does not diminish the value. In fact it makes it even more valuable.
The bears needs will always come first
Idaho F&G agendas come last because their agenda is often based on criteria other than knowledge, experience, science, or data. Someone can work with bears for years out in the wild, know all the expected behavior, habitat needed, an expert for example, but that knowledge does not necessarily translate to knowing what to do in bear rehab throughout the rehab process or to having a successful release. Experience - do the hands on work for years and guess what - LEARN while you do it. Then write the guidelines. Idaho F&G has put forth some ridiculous statements that have no documentation, are not based in either fact or science, but they believe makes them sound like they know what they are talking about. Yes, at some point I will be happy to quote them. Also, they quote the expert whose publications don’t support their agenda, and who uses the data and knowledge from the very bear rehabbers they dismiss.
What will happen now? Try to discredit IBBR; retaliation; make sure their agenda takes priority over the welfare and best interest of the rehab bears; trivialize our concerns if even addressed; minimize their lack of experience and knowledge? IBBR will stand firm on our reputation, experience, knowledge, science and data that we know is proven, and the support of the bear rehabilitators and wildlife rehabilitators, environmental behaviorists, and agencies who know our results are proven. One of the highest and most treasured proofs of that came from Utah who tracked Rosy Finch, a female rehab bear and the her two sets of her cubs for over six years after release. THAT is what bear rehab should be about.
For me, my final words after 7 years of all this is that the bear will always come first. That comes from the heart and not my head so it is hard to balance both. It is very hard to know and walk that fine line of putting the bear first without creating human-human conflicts. For me there is no conflict as to what line we should walk - save the bear, lose the people. So I ask you all - are you with us - will you stand with us when we call for your help? Are you ready for a difficult and perhaps long struggle to make Idaho and the world a better place for bears? Idaho F&G works for you so how about making your voices heard when the time comes? IBBR will go on putting the individual bear first, refusing to just take orders from those with no experience who don’t really have the best interest of bears as their goal. Our goal is to have no more dead bears - no more “Sorry you don’t have room”. Put bear first, and put rehab in the hands of those doing the work and who have the knowledge and experience. We have plans and will keep you posted on when and how, but when we call for your help, will you stand up with us to see that no more bears have to die and that these agendas change to meet the needs of bears and rehabilitators?
Found & President
The goal of the Idaho Black Bear Rehab program is to save orphaned cubs whenever possible. It is not our goal to place them in zoos or wildlife parks, but to release them into a suitable bear habitat. Bears are inherently shy animals. Except for family groups, they are solitary for most of the year. Many behaviors they need to survive in the wild are instinctive and we do not need to teach them to be bears. As a result, bears are particularly good candidates for rehabilitation. To help accomplish our goal, IBBR has strived since 1989 to establish and maintain good working relationships with wildlife agencies. The public can help orphaned cubs by understanding the options available to their wildlife agencies and what options they normally use to resolve orphaned cub situations. Take an interest in bear management practices and learn what the wildlife agency in your state and other states do with the orphaned cubs.
Key elements for a successful reintroduction into the wild:
- Adequate high quality habitat
- Minimum contact with humans for 7-10 days post release
- An opportunity to socialize with other bear cubs during early development
- Individual personalities
Rehab cubs rarely, if ever starve to death after release; they are not all shot during hunting seasons; they definitely do not all become problem bears. In reality, the majority simply merge into the population and face the same survival risks as any other bear.
When reports come to wildlife agencies on an orphaned cub, they have four options:
- Rehabilitation and release
- Placement in a permanent facility
- Humanely euthanize the cub
- Do nothing - probably resulting in the death of the cub from starvation or predation
State and federal wildlife agencies focus on managing populations, not individuals. They do not have the people, facilities, or funding to handle individual animals requiring rehabilitation. Wildlife rehabilitators are volunteer arms of wildlife agencies. They provide a valuable service to wildlife agencies, communities, and people concerned about the welfare of orphaned or injured bear cubs. They willingly accept responsibility for the work, time, day to day care, medical treatment, and expenses associated with helping orphaned and injured wildlife. That makes wildlife rehabilitators and wildlife agencies a perfect team. Rehabilitators manage individual animals in need of short term care and wildlife agencies manage populations for long term viability.
What any wildlife agency does with orphaned cubs can depend on many factors:
- Do they have a wildlife rehabilitator with the facility and capability to rehabilitate bears successfully?
- Does the community support bear rehabilitation, both financially and in practice?
- Do agency policies support or allow bear rehabilitation?
- Do agencies consider cub rehab an option in their bear management plan?
- Is the agency aware of existing data demonstrating successful rehab techniques for bear cubs?
- Are suitable release locations available?
- Is the criteria for placing a cub in rehab so restrictive that cubs rarely qualify?
- Are field officers aware that placing orphaned cubs in rehab is an option available to them?
- What is the orphaned cub's physical condition - is it immediately life threatening or can we save it?
- Is the cub really habituated (used to people) or is the cub exhibiting normal behavior for a starving or injured cub?
What you can do to help orphaned cubs
Some wildlife agencies will euthanize orphaned cubs or place them in captive facilities without opting for bear rehab even when available to them. In those situations, the public should ask why rehab was not an option. Although our wildlife agencies focus on bear populations, it is important they recognize that the public does care about orphaned or injured cubs and respond to those concerns. Bear cub rehab should be the first option whenever possible in their bear management plan. Placing orphaned cubs in permanent facilities is not the preferred alternative, even when that option is feasible. Wildlife agencies must be accountable for their policies and actions. The public also has a responsibility and a role in helping wildlife agencies to develop sound policies for rehabilitating orphaned bear cubs.
What should I do if I see an orphaned cub?
As a caring and compassionate society, each of us has a responsibility for the welfare of our wildlife. If you think you found an orphaned cub, take the following steps:
- Do not try to capture the cub yourself - it may not be orphaned & mom could be around
- Determine the exact location - use milepost markers, signs, trail markers, landmarks, etc.
- Contact the nearest wildlife agency with details on the cub and the exact location
- Tell the officer you will wait at that location for them (if possible) - this will not only make their job easier in finding the cub, but encourage them to respond quicker
- If you know a wildlife rehabilitator in the area, call that person also - he or she can take additional steps to ensure the cub receives help even if they do not work with bears
- More than one cub may be in the area - listen and keep your eyes open
- Follow up - make sure the cub was found, rescued, and ask what they did with the cub
- If they placed the cub in rehab, ask for the name & phone number of the rehabilitator
- Contact the rehabilitator & share any information you have on the cub
If you know of an orphaned cub at risk, please contact the local wildlife agency. Ask questions and get as much information on the situation as possible. If you still feel the cub is at risk, e-mail IBBR and we will try to help in whatever way possible. Please give us as many accurate details as you can. Include the name, phone number, or e-mail of a wildlife agency contact or an individual who is directly involved in trying to help the cub. Although there are not many bear rehabilitators in the U.S., IBBR does try to keep an updated list of known licensed rehabilitators experienced in handling bears. We will try to find the one nearest you. IBBR also accepts cubs for rehab from other states, but these cubs must return to their home state for release. If the wildlife agency agrees to take the cub back for release and it is feasible from a logistic standpoint, IBBR can take the orphaned cub into our program. Let's make it as easy as possible for wildlife agencies to use rehab as their first option. IBBR will do what we can by sharing our expertise to help any cub at risk. Also, if you know of a wildlife rehabilitator in your state that takes orphaned cubs, please share that information with us.