Five black bears were shot and killed by conservation officers near Wiltse Elementary Schoold on Thursday afternoon in Penticton.
Zoe Kirk, Wildsafe BC community coordinator, said conservation officers were forced to kill the bears after they were seen roaming the neighbourhood, and at least one of them charged a teenager.
“For our region, this is nearly unprecedented,” said Kirk “They couldn’t remember in 28 years if this has ever happened before that so many bears at once had to be destroyed.”
Prior to shooting the bears she said conservation officers called the RCMP and the school was locked down to ensure the public was safe.
According to one of two members of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service who responded to the complaint, there was no choice but to humanely euthanize the animals with high-powered rifles.
Sgt. James Zucchelli said the bears had been operating in the area for about a week to 10 days going “door to door” foraging through garbage, compost piles and fruit trees resulting in an escalation of complaints and incidents over the last two days.
“The entire situation came to a head Wednesday night when a young man was charged by a bear. We got a call from the school this morning and a photograph showing the five bears in green space within about 30 yards of the school grounds, they were all milling around while the kids were coming and going to school. So, out of concern for public safety, we had to euthanize them,” said Zucchelli, who described the bears as three adult males and two sub-adult females.
“This is a situation that reflects back on the community, there was a considerable amount of garbage, it’s the garbage that’s killing these bears, not the conservation service. The service regrets what happened today, we feel for the community, we feel for the bears and we feel for the officers involved in these situations.”
Prior to being shot, the five animals went up a large ponderosa pine tree near a residence on Ponderosa Place about 30 metres from the ground, which would have made it impossible for the conservation officers to safely euthanize the bears from that height.
“Hopefully this is a wake-up call to the community and they use this to draw the line in the sand and say this is not going to happen anymore.”
It’s the second time a group of bears have been shot in the Okanagan in the past week-and-a-half.
On Oct. 14, 15 and 16 conservation officers were forced to kill six food-condition bears near Okanagan Lake Resort.
In that case a West Kelowna business was criminally charged under the Wildlife Act and a dangerous wildlife protection order was issued. The Conservation Officer Service refused to name the business.
In an ironic twist, just as conservation officers were killing the five bears in Penticton, down the road in Naramata the community was being recognized by the province as a “bear smart” community.
Over the past five years, Naramata has dramatically reduced the number of human-wildlife conflicts thanks to bear-resistant garbage carts, bylaws restricting when residents can put out their garbage out and a grass-roots education program.
“It’s a very rude awakening and a reminder that here we are in one community celebrating the fact that the community has pulled together, manages their attracts and learns to live with bears and then just down the road it can be a different story.”
The public is also advised to call 1-877-952-7277 regarding any conflict with wildlife and related matters.