"Very frustrating": 6 bears euthanized in 2 days in Metro Vancouver

Dec 9 2019, 6:15 pm

After six bears were euthanized in Port Coquitlam over a two-day period, a spokesperson with the BC Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) called the whole situation “very frustrating.”

The six bears were part of two separate families: one was a female with one cub, and one was a female with three cubs, according to BCCOS Officer Murray Smith.

Smith told Daily Hive that the first incident took place on Friday, November 29, at 12:30 pm at Fox Street Park in the city, which he described as being behind a Nissan dealership, close to Coquitlam Centre, and bordering the Coquitlam River.

It’s an area that is “pretty common” for bears,” he added. “Because it borders on the river, its always going to be a corridor for wildlife and the key is to have them keep going. The bears come from up in the mountains, down the river, and then they start to keep going, if they find food sources, they start to stay.”

In both cases, the two bear family units had been moving up and down the river, “coming out of the protection of the river area and moving into the urban area” to reach food.

Bears in area “for about a month”

Smith said COS officers were aware the bears had been spotted in the area for about a month prior to the November 29 incident.

“We had a number of reports of the female and cub trying to get into building complexes to try and access garbage bins inside the building, and they were getting into garbage in and around that neighbourhood in the housing area,” he explained.

This created a situation in which the bears had no fear of people, and had been “conditioned” to human food sources.

On the day of the first incident, COS “got reports of sow and a cub in the park, around 12:30 pm, a time of day Smith said was “odd” for bears to be seen. “There were people in the park filming the bears, the bears weren’t leaving, and they were not affected by the COS when they showed up,” he said.

And while Smith said it is “not uncommon” to see bears out of their dens this time of year, natural sources of food for bears in the wild “start to dry up,” around this time of year as well, signalling to the bears it’s time to go into their den, he explained.

“But once there are manmade food sources readily available and bears are in urban settings, the bears don’t go in their den, because they’re getting their food sources from humans.”

Compounding this particular situation, he said, was the fact that it was the end of November, “so relocating these bears to another area — who had a den site, an established area, and by all intents should have been in that den site — if we were to relocate them, they’ve got to go to some unknown area, and find a den site,” said Smith.

This time of year, the chances of them doing that are slim, “and the chances of survival are very low.” As such, he said, the decision was made to euthanize them.

As for the other bears, Smith said the COS had received reports on the Friday that a trio of bears were sleeping beside the fence at the Nissan dealership, “which is where we found them.”

He noted that garbage was found “all over the place” in the area as well.

“We set traps there, but they didn’t go in the traps,” said Smith. “On the Saturday we went out again, there they were all again sitting there at the dealership and the decision was made to tranquillize them.”

Smith said incidents like these, particularly so close together, “isn’t something we take lightly and it’s a pretty hard thing for conservation officers to do.” These situations are also extremely frustrating to go through, he said, “because they can be avoided.”

Smith said that prior to both sets of bears being euthanized, “we had two months of reports and we did an enforcement blitz in partnership with local bylaw officers; we charged people we gave them warnings, and we issued orders to clean up.”

“Gave them every chance”

As for the bears, “we gave them every chance we could to go in the den and leave the area,” all while continuing to educate the public about the issue.

At the end of the day, however, “they just didn’t have a fear of people any longer, and by that time, we couldn’t relocate them – so it was very frustrating.”

Reflecting on this, and other such similar incidents, Smith said there is an easy fix to situations like these, “but it’s not necessarily easy to achieve.”

The fix, he said, revolves around “securing our attractants – not only in our homes, but our commercial operations.”

However, he conceded that this is easier said than done, especially in urban areas of rapid population growth, where some newcomers to the community don’t come from areas with bears.

“There’s lots of challenges and this isn’t something that’s going to change,” said Smith.

He stressed that conservation officers “will still continue to hold the public accountable” for their actions in situations like these.

At the end of the day, he said, “this sort of thing isn’t fair to the bears and it’s not to the conservation officers.”

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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