The man responsible for two Whitehorse properties where cooking oil and other food waste was stored attracting dangerous wildlife was found guilty of two counts of breaking wildlife protection orders.
Conservation officers put down three black bears in 2018 after they became habituated to feasting on the oil.
In 2019, Wildlife Act and Environment Act charges were laid against Joszef Suska and his company 535802 Yukon Inc. as well as Michele Palma and Dawson Group of Companies Ltd., which he was the director of.
Suska entered guilty pleas to five charges relating to the attractants in early 2020. He and his company were ordered to pay a total of $65,000.
Palma was before the court on April 6 to hear the judgment from Judge Karen Ruddy after pleading not guilty and making his case in a trial last year. Palma was facing charges of failing to comply with a dangerous wildlife protection order that relate to his ownership or management of two properties in Whitehorse where the bear-attracting cooking oil was improperly stored.
Ruddy’s judgment drew on testimony from the conservation and natural resource officers who investigated the improperly-stored attractants and who eventually had to kill the black bears. Testimony described greasy paw prints in the dirt and, on one occasion, a bear seen carrying off one of the jugs.
They remarked that the bears that had to be put down had no fear of humans, were behaving aggressively near the food source and one bear’s fur was found to be slick with the oil after it was put down.
Along with the black bears that had to be euthanized, a grizzly bear sow and cub were successfully trapped and relocated in 2018 and a lone grizzly was relocated the following year. Conservation officer Aaron Koss-Young said the grizzlies were not food conditioned yet but were still investigating oil-soaked soil at the site.
“This is the most disgusting situation I’ve ever dealt with in 20 years of doing this,” Koss-Young said.
“I’ve never seen so little regard for public safety and the safety of animals.”
Ruddy stated that her decision to find Palma guilty also relied on photographs and other evidence as well as statements from Suska and Palma. She noted conflicting testimony regarding where exactly the cooking oil was stored on the MacRae subdivision property but found the conservation officers’ information more credible than the version presented by Suska.
The court heard that Suska was storing the used cooking oil with the intention of having it converted to biodiesel. In her judgement, Ruddy stated that Suska had an agreement with Palma for the storage of the oil at one of the properties and that some of it was left at the other property as a result of an error by one of Suska’s employees. Although Suska acknowledged being the one responsible for leaving the oil on the properties, Ruddy noted that Palma was not charged with improper storage of attractants but with failure to clean up the property in compliance with the dangerous wildlife protection order.
Ruddy said that the most contentious issue weighed at trial was establishing that Palma owned or was in charge of the two properties.
A sale agreement between Palma and the Yukon Lands Branch for one of the properties was referred to but not entered as evidence, and therefore considered hearsay. Instead Ruddy stated that the crown had proven that Palma was in charge of the property by drawing on his repeated interactions with the conservation officers investigating the property. His ownership of the other property, located in the Whitehorse Copper subdivision was established more simply.
A date for sentencing will be fixed in another court session. Palma, who appeared without legal counsel, expressed a desire to appeal the decision and to obtain a lawyer for future proceedings. Ruddy informed him that he could enter an appeal within 30 days following the sentencing.
Koss-Young said the sites that were the subject of the court care are now being remediated. He said most of the animal attractant issues encountered by conservation officers in the Whitehorse area are not as severe as the one before the courts, even mismanaged household garbage can lead to a bear’s demise. He asked the public to call the TIPP line available 24/7 at 1-800-661-0525 if they have concerns about wildlife attractants.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org