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Bear killed on Callaghan construction site

Third bear in three weeks Conservation Officer Services has been called upon to destroy

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Another day, another bear that’s had to be killed by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

This one occurred on Aug. 7 at around 1 p.m. at the Kiewit work camp on Highway 99 near the bottom of the Callaghan Valley. A large male black bear, weighing about 300 pounds, according to conservation officer Chris Doyle, entered an office building at the site and rummaged through garbage.

A female worker went into the building not knowing the bear was there. The bear then charged at her, swiped at her and caused some minor injuries, such as bruises and scratches, before taking off. The worker was taken to the Whistler Healthcare Centre by ambulance and later released.

A trap was set for the bear and it came back to the site while the Conservation Officer Service was still on location. It was then shot and its carcass will undergo a necropsy, or an autopsy for animals.

Though a common stigma about black bears is that they are shy animals, Doyle said physical encounters with humans are common when the bears are confined to small spaces.

“If the bear has a fight or flight response, even if it’s just trying to get out, if someone’s standing in its way to its exit, there’s likely to be a physical encounter,” he said in an interview with Pique .

This marks the fifth bear that has been killed by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service this season in Whistler, and the third in less than three weeks.

Conservation officer Drew Milne caught a 350-pound black bear in a trap after it broke into a house in the Brio neighbourhood and charged an RCMP officer. The bear’s corpse was given to the Squamish First Nation for “cultural purposes.”

The Conservation Officer Service was also called after a two-year-old, 75-pound black bear broke into a townhouse near Whistler Marketplace and trashed the kitchen before occupants came home. The road behind the house had to be blocked off before the bear was destroyed.

The latest bear death comes just after two bear encounters in Coquitlam, B.C. In one instance a woman was mauled by a black bear while tending to her garden. The bear entered her yard at about 9:30 a.m. and she fell to the driveway as it attacked. She was bitten on her arms and legs before nearby residents drove the animal away.

In a second incident, a large black bear, believed to be about 400 pounds, broke into a basement suite. Conservation officers shot the bear in the shoulder before it ran up a tree. The bear was then hit with a tranquilizer. The bear then fell from the tree and started running towards the officers before it was shot again. This time it was killed.

The encounters in Coquitlam sparked a news release from B.C.’s Ministry of Environment that encouraged people to keep all food and garbage secure and to not approach bears when sighted.

It also said the Conservation Officer Service in the Lower Mainland received 2,350 reports of bear sightings between April 1 and July 1. Officers attended 116 times when bears acted aggressively or public safety was an issue. Six bears were killed during this time.

“I’ve been predicting that it was going to happen,” said Jacques Driselle, provincial coordinator for Bear Aware, when asked why black bears are having physical encounters with humans.

Drisdelle said the number of bear encounters in Whistler could have a lot to do with a large bear population, as well as particular bears that have lost their natural fear of humans.

“There’s a lot more human tolerance for the presence of bears,” he said.

While he said that too many bears are being killed by conservation officers, he said that the problem starts with people who do not understand what they need to do to prevent bear encounters.

“We’re shooting too many bears, it’s true,” he said. “What is happening is when people allow bears to get into garbage, they’re killing the bear. They’re just using someone else to pull the trigger for them and of course they lay all the blame on the conservation officers.”

Drisdelle said that the calorie content of human food is an attractive option for bears, one they can’t easily wean themselves off of once they’ve tried it.

“If bears get into garbage or fruit trees or pet food or bird feeders, these are foods that are very high in calorie content,” he said. “They have to eat far more of their natural food to equate to the value, the nutritional value of one time in a garbage can.

“It’s just as if I were to compare it to putting a child on a diet of soft drinks, junk food, treats, ice cream, and then trying to change that child’s habit by giving it potatoes and carrots and peas and broccoli.”

In order to guard against further encounters, Drisdelle is advising people not to let bears near them. He said they can do this by making lots of noise and ensuring that they do not get hooked on human food sources.

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