Conservation officer responds to traumatic bear shooting in Trail last week

“...people have to realize that (even though) it took more than one shot, we did this as quickly and as humanely as possible.”

The regional conservation officer (CO) says it’s the role of the entire community to rid neighbourhoods of bear attractants because a two-man office cannot take on every complaint.

And if neighbours don’t ask neighbours to pick their fruit trees, use bear proof bins or keep garbage secured indoors until pick up day, then bears will keep getting shot.

Those words from Ben Beetlestone, CO for the West Kootenay region, came on the heels of a incident last week in Sunningdale where two bears were destroyed.

He acknowledged the traumatic incident on Sept. 30 when it took three shots to put down one cub.

The small bruin shrieked after its mother was shot and killed, and continued wailing until it too died after being shot twice, then once at close range.

“I have had to put a lot of animals down in my 15 years,” Beetlestone told the Trail Times Tuesday. “This was an extremely rare situation, when it absorbed three shots before going down. And I’ve only seen it happen with cubs,” he added. “But people have to realize that (even though) it took more than one shot, we did this as quickly and as humanely as possible.”

Beetlestone says conservation officers become the scapegoat when bears get killed. He points out, it’s people who leave out garbage and other attractants, who are ultimately responsible for the bears’ demise.

“We are made out to be the bad guy, but why is no one complaining about garbage being left out or fruit trees not picked?” he queried.

Beetlestone followed with an example.

After shooting the two bears in Sunningdale, he was called to Rossland for a complaint about two bears eating fruit in a tree near a school.

He questions why no one took action or said anything to the person who left fruit on a tree in the first place.

“People need to take on the responsibility themselves until the public perception of these issues change,” he said, mentioning bears are not put down unless there is a history on the animal.

“There was no aggressive behaviour (with the Rossland bears), they were eating fruit in a tree near the school.”

With a history now initiated, the bears’ days could be numbered if nothing changes and the bruins continue returning to the food source.

“So the community needs to take on that person because once habituated, the bears are probably going to stay,” he said. “So if fruit is not ready, pick it anyway and buy some at the store. Take the hit for this year.”

He reiterated when a bear becomes a safety issue, conservation has no choice but to pull the trigger.

“But the apple tree on the corner is your problem, so educate your neighbour,” added Beetlestone.

Enforcement is also not the answer, he explained, because writing tickets does not lead to immediate clean up of the delinquent property.

People can be fined $345 for leaving out attractants, but they have 30 days to dispute the ticket.

“As an officer we have to think about that because a year later in traffic court (tickets) are treated leniently and reduced right off the bat,” he explained. “Or we can order someone to contain attractants by writing an order to get rid of bags of garbage. But new bags will replace those, and we don’t have the ability (manpower) to keep going out and writing more tickets.”

In the Trail case, the bears had been in the area since August, and as they habituated to garbage and fruit, signs of aggression had been displayed.

“When bears become aggressive, they are destroyed,” continued Beetlestone. “There is no relocation of food conditioned bears because they will always come back. So if people will not deal with attractants, the bears will lose out in the end.”

Numerous bears have been killed to date in the Trail and Rossland areas, and Wildsafe BC reports 223 bear calls to date compared to 163 this same time last year.

Beetlestone says the hot dry summer minimized natural food supply, so sows and cubs are often forced out of food rich spots by dominant male bears.