Town of Cochrane - Do not sabotage the future of the Polar Bear Habitat

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In November of 2019, the Town of Cochrane announced that it wanted to close down the Polar Bear Habitat (PBH), dependent on public input. After an extraordinarily supportive response from Cochrane residents, the Council of the Town of Cochrane voted in favour of a plan to transition the management of the facility from the municipality, to the Canadian Polar Bear Habitat Charity Board of Directors.

“The residents gave us a clear message,” said Denis Clement, Mayor of Cochrane, Ontario. “They want the Town to give the Habitat’s Board the time to complete its new business plan and put it in place”

An ad hoc committee — consisting of members representing both the PBH Charity Board of Directors and Town of Cochrane — was developed almost a year ago to facilitate the process.

“I do believe we need to give the board of directors of the Polar Bear Habitat time to put together a business plan,” said Mayor Denis Clement. “And we will work together with them.”

At the September 22nd council meeting, Town of Cochrane CAO, Darren Ottaway, stated that the Charity’s Board of Directors would take over operation of the Habitat on January 1st.  On October 9th, only 17 days after Mr. Ottaway’s announcement, the Town decided to terminate the position of Conservation Coordinator — held by Dylan McCart — and escort him off site immediately without cause.

This was unannounced, leaving Dylan no time to talk to staff, contact the researchers and organizations he had built relationships with, or say goodbye to the bears he had cared for during the past six-and-a-half years. This was a serious move, to abolish an extremely important position and terminate the work of a highly skilled and qualified figurehead of PBH.

Dylan McCart has been studying polar bears for the past 11 years and is an internationally respected specialist. He has elevated PBH from a roadside attraction to a leading facility for conservation and research. He has augmented both the Polar Bear Habitat and our community.   

Dylan is currently getting his master’s degree in polar bear endocrinology. He held the title of the Canadian Regional Advisor for the Species Survival Plan Polar Bear Program (SSP), he sat on the North American Polar Bear Research Committee as the Canadian Representative, and was the acting Canadian liaison for Polar Bears International among Canadian polar bear facilities (PBI). With his termination, he lost those titles, and so did Cochrane.

This decision was carried out with complete ignorance and disregard towards the dedication, hard work, and exemplary leadership that this employee has shown over his career. Dylan is a highly respected, valuable asset to Cochrane and its residents, and he is vital for the positive economic impact from tourism, and quality visitor experiences in out Northern town.

I support the Polar Bear Habitat. I support its mission, and its future, and I have concerns about the wellbeing of each. My support means that:

  1.  I expect transparency from the Town of Cochrane surrounding the decision to eliminate the Conservation Coordinator position at the Polar Bear Habitat – a decision that jeopardizes the future of the Habitat.
  2. I expect that the staff at the Polar Bear Habitat – like all Town of Cochrane staff – will be treated with dignity and respect. I expect that people who are dedicated to improving this town and its amenities will be appreciated, not discarded.
  3. I expect that the Town of Cochrane will not sabotage the future of the Polar Bear Habitat.
  4. I expect that the elected officials of the Town of Cochrane will honour their decision to entrust the Habitat to the board of the Canadian Polar Bear Habitat charity, which has expressed its commitment to the success of the facility. In doing so, the council will also honour the wishes of the people of Cochrane.

Want to do more? Please send a letter of support to the Town of Cochrane Councillors: