A B.C. conservation officer has been suspended without pay after refusing to kill two five-month-old bear cubs on Vancouver Island.

Bryce Casavant was dispatched to a home near Port Hardy over the weekend after the cubs’ mother was caught eating salmon from a freezer.

The mother was destroyed, but when Casavant was instructed to euthanize its young cubs he refused, arguing there was no evidence they’d eaten human food too.

Instead, he brought the animals to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association, resulting in his suspension.

“I think it’s just unbelievable,” said Robin Campbell, the association’s founder and manager. “He’s a family guy and they suspend him without pay.”

Campbell said the cubs show no sign of habituation, and they could be released back into the wild next summer.

Rehabilitation organizations like his rely on conservation officers and trust their judgment when assessing wildlife, he added.

“They’re our lifeline to these bears, to bring them in and to help us make the call,” Campbell said.

Casavant’s suspension has outraged others in the community as well, and inspired an online petition calling for his immediate reinstatement.

By Tuesday evening, nearly 9,000 people had signed.

Environment Minister Mary Polak issued a statement saying the decision to put down wildlife is always difficult, and called the situation with Casavant “very sad and unfortunate.”

She said the government has launched an investigation into what happened.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s St. John Alexander