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Bear killed after getting trapped in car looking for food

Conservation warns public to secure food and garbage as bears ready for hibernation

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As a tree planter and longtime Whistlerite, Cordula Baumbach has seen her fair share of black bears.

But on the night of Oct. 4, she gained a new appreciation for their power and strength, as she watched a large black bear violently thrash around inside her partner's 2007 Toyota Matrix.

"You could see he was angry, because he was trapped," explained Baumbach.

At one point, the bear slapped a giant paw against the front windshield.

"I'm not scared of bears by any means. But the sheer power with which he swatted against the car window — I'm like, 'Oh lord,'" she said.

The tagged bear had opened the unlocked door and entered it to look for food — a behaviour that had worked in the past according to conservation officer Kent Popjes — and got locked inside the vehicle. There was no food in the unlocked car.

In recent weeks, the bear had started to enter cars regularly.

"It escalated to the bear breaching vehicles with no attractants just to scope them out," said Popjes, adding that the bear had damaged nine pieces of property, including two other cars, within the last two weeks.

"It's not the kind of behaviour that was going to change," he said.

The bear was tranquilized onsite and subsequently killed.

For Baumbach, who contacted Pique directly, the story carries an important message: Keep your doors locked — and don't leave any food in your car.

"I love the fact that living in this town you don't have to lock your doors," she said. "But after this, we realize you have to do it."

Despite the panicked actions of the bear, Baumbach tried to open one of the car's door before realizing it was locked. She called the RCMP, and officers arrived at 10:45 p.m.. Shortly after, officers called Popjes by phone, who advised them to free the bear from the vehicle.

RCMP cut off a bike rack from the back of the car and attempted to open the rear hatch, but because the bear was still active inside the vehicle, it wouldn't stay open. Forty-five minutes after first calling him, the RCMP requested Popjes come to the scene.

Popjes, who lives in Squamish, arrived around 12:40 a.m.

In the intervening time, the bear oscillated between fits of fury and rest. At points, its giant body rested on the horn, letting out a prolonged blare.

Baumbach felt it took too long to deal with the situation. It was around 3 a.m. before the ordeal was finished, she said.

"I was wondering, (the RCMP has) a bang gun and bear mace, why don't they just smash the window and let it out?" she said.

The frightened bear destroyed the interior of the car in its attempts to escape.

Baumbach, who helped drag the bear out of the vehicle after it had been sedated, said she was surprised at the weight of the bear.

"They're really heavy. You see them, but you never have a sense of their weight," she said.

"It was a sad, surreal moment."

According to a recent briefing by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, across the province there have been over 14,000 complaints about black bears this year and 496 black bears have been destroyed.

"Non-natural food sources continue to be a significant driver for bear conflict," explained deputy chief conservation officer Chris Doyle.

Officials said conflict could ramp up as we enter fall and bears look to fatten up for hibernation.

Berry crops and vegetation levels are low, explained Nicole Fitzgerald, a long-time volunteer with Whistler's Get Bear Smart Society.

"There's an expectation there will be a lot of bear activity this fall," she said.

Three bears have been destroyed so far this year in the Whistler area, compared to six last year, but "relocations and destructions usually fall in September and October," explained Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald wants people to make sure their barbecues are clean and their garbage bins are secured. And she wants people to be vigilant about not leaving food in their vehicles.

Bears need between 15,000 and 20,000 calories a day, and their sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound.

"If you have a granola bar that's sealed and wrapped in your glove compartment, they can smell it," said Fitzgerald.

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