Review of bear center prompts renovations
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now


Review of bear center prompts renovations Officials making changes in accordance with WSU inspection's findings
By Kaia Johnson,, April 11, 2017

An internal review of WSU’s grizzly bear program showed a need for increased staffing and improved facilities.

After 15 bears died over a period of six years, Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), an animal rights group, issued a formal complaint. As a result, WSU conducted its own internal review of the Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center and released its findings in March.

The review found the Environmental Health Service Building to be inadequate for the center’s needs. Specifically, the review recommended the building administrators add an automatic lighting system that would turn on if the power goes out.

Nina Woodford, Office of the Campus Veterinarian (OCV) director, said they have taken in the recommendations and done a lot to the center since last spring.

“In terms of facilities, we’ve put in emergency lighting for power outage,” Woodford said. “The fire marshal did a full inspection of the center and all bear dens have been resurfaced.”

The den resurfacing was crucial, Woodford said, because that is where the bears hibernate.

The review also found room for improvement in the communication between the center and the OCV. The recommendations include adding more staff, increasing OCV presence during major procedures and making sure the OCV has authority over the center.

Woodford said that in response to the recommendations, the center has hired a full-time manager and has implemented more veterinarian presence within the facilities. This presence includes routine veterinarian rounds, a member of OCV staff present in operations, and weekly meetings, Woodford said.

“If there are any health issues,” Woodford said, “we know immediately.”

Co-founder of SAEN Michael Budkie said they have not seen a resolution to their complaint, though the blame may not be on WSU.

Budkie said since February, documentation and information about enforcement actions for research institutions have been removed from the USDA website.

“Despite that fact, we’ve filed a Freedom of Information Act [request] for these documents,” Budkie said, “but we still haven’t heard anything.”

Moving forward in their research, Woodford said the center has a new project this summer that could last for years. The center will be using a special treadmill as part of a program to measure how much energy bears use while moving.

“This could help us understand bears in the wild that are traveling long distances for food,” Woodford said.

The unique treadmill was originally constructed at WSU, she said, but has been out on loan, first to the Portland Zoo, then to the San Diego Zoo. The treadmill is now back home in Pullman, Woodford said. 

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