EDMONTON -- Alberta has lifted a ban on private rehabilitation of orphaned cubs as wildlife officials in Banff National Park prepare for the return of three one-year-old black bears.

The ban, which had been in place since 2010, meant that bears orphaned in the province had to be killed or sent to zoos.

Officials worked with wildlife sanctuary operators to develop a new policy.

"This particular policy lagged behind other jurisdictions," Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said at the legislature Wednesday. "It was brought to our attention that we could improve this policy, so we did."

The policy is based on the latest scientific research, modern rehabilitation practices, compassion for the bears and public safety, she said.

It allows Alberta Fish and Wildlife staff to work with private facilities to allow the rehabilitation of black bear cubs that are less than a year old and includes a draft protocol that sets requirements for feeding, suitability of space, appropriate veterinary care and what kinds of interactions the bears can have with people.

The policy comes after a couple of recent cases involving black bear cubs in the province -- including one found injured along a highway near Calgary.

Three cubs were also found abandoned in a washroom along the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park a year ago. They were sent to the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, because no Alberta facilities were permitted to take them.

The bears, which came out of their winter den on April 11, are set to return to the national park this year.

Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager with Banff National Park, said it's hoped the cubs will be back in Alberta by summer.

"It's weather dependent," he said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. "We'll see how things go that way, in terms of timing."

The transfer is likely to happen in June or July.

"We don't want to bring them in too soon," said Hunt. "We're watching to see how that goes."

Parks Canada has been working to get the required permits from the Alberta government.

Hunt said the bears will be transported by vehicle to Toronto, before being flown to Calgary and hitting the road for the Rocky Mountains.

"One of our staff will go out there and do the immobilization and put collars and ear tags on them."

Under the province's new protocol, all rehabilitated bears must be fitted with monitoring devices and tracked by scientists to make sure the animals reintegrate into the wild.

Hunt said the Banff bears will either be released in Banff National Park or one of the neighbouring mountain parks.

"We don't have any information about how they got into the washroom building on April 1 last year," said Hunter, adding they could be cubs from British Columbia.

Final details on their release are still being worked out.

Previous rehabilitation efforts for bears haven't historically been successful, but Hunt suggested times have changed.

"Certain facilities are doing better with that," he said. "The processes over which they've been fed and managed over the winter have set them up for success."

Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the bear rehabilitation facilities in central Ontario that accepts the animals from other provinces, but the government insists that the bruins be returned to where they were found.

-- With files from Dean Bennett