Conservation officers bury science lesson

Monique Coderre found a dead, bloodied black bear on the road on the way to her job at Whitehorse Elementary.

Monique Coderre found a dead, bloodied black bear on the road on the way to her job at Whitehorse Elementary.

And this roadkill would make a perfect science lesson for her students.

She phoned Environment, hoping a conservation officer would help skin the carcass as part of a biology lesson.

Instead, she was forced to surrender the dead animal. Picking up the roadkill was illegal, Coderre was told.

By taking the bear, the longtime science teacher and librarian was “removing a murder victim from the scene of the crime,” the conservation officer told her.

“Get a grip,” said Coderre. “It’s roadkill, not a murder scene.”

A conservation officer picked up the bear and told Coderre he would investigate the bear’s death. Coderre asked if she could keep the bear’s shoulder and the internal organs after the investigation.

She later found out the carcass was taken to the Whitehorse landfill and buried immediately after the investigation determined the bear was, indeed, roadkill.

Conservation officers do receive reports of dead bears along the highway, leading to poaching investigations, said Tony Grabowski, manager of conservation service enforcement and compliance.

“We have found some bears had been shot illegally and the gallbladders and paws and other parts had been removed,” he said.

His office received a call about Coderre’s bear that morning, but before officers attended to find out what happened, the bear was removed.

“It could conceivably be one of those instances of poaching, but before we could investigate a member of the public removed the bear,” said Grabowski.

They couldn’t save the animal for the class, said Grabowski.

“Because we’re pedal-to-the metal busy this year, the decision was made to properly dispose of the carcass,” he said. “We normally take the carcasses to the landfill and they bury them for us there.

“We work hard to accommodate people and all situations. Sometimes, perhaps through miscommunication, it’s difficult to achieve that goal 100 per cent of the time.”

Grabowski said he is unsure of the exact phrasing used by the officer who spoke with Coderre.

“If I was going to capture what took place, I would say, ‘potential evidence was removed from the site,’” he said.

Coderre found the 1.2-metre-long black bear lying on the side of the road near Marsh Lake on her way into the city Wednesday morning.

“It was meant for me,” she said. “It was just laying there waiting for me to pick it up.”

After hauling the carcass into the trunk of her car and then into the city, Coderre took the school’s principal out to the parking lot to see her new science project.

“My principal is used to me coming up with weird and wonderful things for my students,” said Coderre, adding that her boss signed off on the idea to bring the bear into class.

Students would have used the carcass in ways that span several disciplines.

A skinned black bear looks similar to the human body and the organs are almost the right size, a perfect specimen to use in the Human Body unit that starts the Grade 5 science curriculum.

Coderre also wanted to invite conservation officers to the class so students could hear about their jobs. using the bear removal as a pretext to discuss the “career” section of the social studies curriculum.

Having the officers skin the bear in class would also fit into the northern studies perspective of education in the Yukon.

What would have made a unique start to the school year is now lost.

The class will use the usual chicken parts and other scraps from the grocery store to study biology.

“It’s a total waste,” said Coderre. “When I learned (the officer) immediately went to the dump, I got upset because of what I wanted to do with the carcass. Fifty kids would have thought it was the coolest thing.”

She had support from another teacher in the Grade 5 class and had spoken to the principal and vice-principal who both gave their support.

The conservation service has no concern about dissecting a bear in class if it’s done properly, said Grabowski.

“Skinning something in the school, there will literally be blood and guts and there has to be some way to properly disinfect the area afterwards and proper safety procedures must be followed,” he said.

The dissection of a bear at FH Collins high school several years ago is still remembered by educators, said Remy Rodden, the government conservation education co-ordinator.

“That created quite a stir, even then,” said Rodden. “They still talk about it years later. Bears are large animals to deal with. They’re a little bit smellier, too.

“There’s always a value in looking at the anatomy of animals. If there’s an opportunity to see what’s inside that is a valuable thing.”

Any teacher can approach the department to ask for something similar which the department will arrange with some notice.

“This was a very spur-of-the-moment kind of thing; just to drop everything and go do it isn’t as easy as it might seem,” he said.

“We’re more than happy to do this sort of thing. We have some foxes and coyotes in the freezer right now.”