Cochrane residents protest decision to eliminate job of polar bear habitat conservation coordinator
TIMMINS -- There have been some recent changes at the Canadian Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane. Conservation coordinator Dylan McCart's position has been eliminated.
"It will be replaced," said Denis Clement, the mayor of Cochrane. "It's not gone permanently, but so the message has to be clear that there's no intention to reduce staff or no intentions to close the place at this point."
Town and board officials refuse to say why McCart was let go, and that lack of transparency is upsetting many residents.
The Advocacy group 'People for the Polar Bear Habitat' has launched a petition against McCart's job loss and has so far collected more than 1,400 signatures. It's also holding a protest outside town hall on Tuesday before the council meeting.
"Dylan is vital there and I think this is a way for the town knowing if they take Dylan out of the picture, the Habitat's going to suffer," said Wendy Tanner, one of the concerned residents in Cochrane.
"It's like taking the Mama away from a baby while it's weaning, you can't do that, it's just not right," said Tia Lajeunesse, another concerned citizen. "He's essential not just to the facility itself, but to the bears. The bears depend on him daily for their maintenance and well-being."
The habitat is currently home to three bears. Two bear keepers continue to work there. Clement said the habitat is a $400,000 tax burden.
Last fall, public meetings were held to discuss who would operate the habitat, the town or the board. Council agreed to give the 'Canadian Polar Bear Habitat Charity' a year to come up with a viable financial plan.
"Our artificial deadline is Dec. 31, but it's not etched in stone," Clement said. "I mean if we still see there's light at the end of the tunnel so to speak then we'll continue to negotiate. If it's not a good deal for both sides, then we'll just go down a different path."
When asked about McCart's job and the status of the habitat, chair of the board J.P. Bradette offered the following statement via email to CTV News:
"The board of the not-for-profit Canadian Polar Bear Habitat continues to negotiate the transfer of the Habitat’s financial and operating responsibilities in good faith with the town. We have no further comment at this time."
The habitat originally opened as a tourism attraction and has become a research centre to study polar bears and the effects of climate change on the species. It's the only facility in the world dedicated solely to polar bears.