The Conservation Officer Service (COS) has disclosed that three bears suspected of being fed in Kadenwood over several years were destroyed by the Crown agency in September after displaying “very troubling” behaviour on the scene.
Sgt. Simon Gravel reached out to Pique within hours of publication of a story on Friday, Dec. 21 that reported the COS had launched an investigation into bear feeding in Kadenwood that they have recently learned might have occurred over a number of years, “contributing to the domestication-like behaviour of several bears,” according to a press release sent to media on Dec. 16.
In the point-form email, the COS reported that, on Sept. 19, conservation officers attended Kadenwood and confirmed there had been damage to multiple properties done by bears. It went on to say that officers observed a sow and two cubs nearby, before attempting to haze the animals away “with no success.” The bears reportedly approached the officers at close distances after several attempts to haze them away. The COS said it tranquilized the three bears onsite for “further assessment,” during which time, two other yearling bears appeared and approached the officers.
What was not shared publicly in the release, or in the previous three months, was that conservation officers killed the bears due to the threat posed to the public.
“The property damage was part of it, but (it was also due to) the behaviour of the bear as a whole,” that COs killed the animals, Gravel said. “The bears were what we would call highly food-conditioned, seeking non-natural food in that neighbourhood for some time, approaching people, bluff-charging people (for) those food sources. When the officers responded, the behaviour that was observed by the officers on the scene was very troubling.”
Gravel explained that the COS chose not to disclose the bears’ deaths in order to protect the ongoing investigation.
“We didn’t want to mention at first, at all, that we responded to that specific location and situation, because there was some sensitive information at the time that needed to be kept (private), because it would have triggered a possible response from our suspect,” he said.
Internally, the COS debated how to handle the release of the information, Gravel noted, adding that the provincial agency did not want to “deviate the narrative away from the investigation just to talk about why the COS killed those bears.
“We have a limited amount of staff and resources to complete that investigation and we hope to be able to focus on that at this point.”
Pique’s original story, published Friday afternoon, reads as follows:
The Conservation Officer Service (COS) has launched an investigation after obtaining information suggesting that people have been feeding bears in Kadenwood for several years—although a local bear advocacy group and the neighbourhood’s strata said it’s the first they’ve heard of it.
On Sunday, Dec. 16, the COS sent out a media release in point form saying it had launched the investigation after receiving two anonymous reports of people feeding bears in the pricy neighbourhood. The COS said it had also received “several other reports and information” of bears approaching people and creating property damage in Kadenwood. It also reportedly has information suggesting that bear feeding has occurred in the area “over a number of years, contributing to the domestication-like behaviour of several bears,” according to the release.
Although it has purportedly been an issue that has persisted for years, the head of the Whistler Get Bear Smart Society, the president of the Kadenwood Strata council, and the strata manager all said they were unaware of any bear feeding.
“I did not hear of anything; no feeding, no bear damage—nothing,” said Scott Keuling, Kadenwood Strata manager with Whistler Resort Management, who provided emails to Pique showing that the COS had been in contact with him as recently as Nov. 22 about removing mountain ash from the neighbourhood. There was no mention of bear feeding.
With only a handful of permanent residents and a steady stream of visitors and second homeowners, Kelly Gave, who lives in the neighbourhood and serves as president of the local strata council, acknowledged the possibility that people were unaware of proper bear practices and could have been feeding wildlife.
In a statement approved by the council, the Kadenwood Strata said, in part, that it is “deeply saddened by this news and strongly disapproves of feeding wildlife, especially bears. We will increase our efforts to educate homeowners and residents on being bear aware.”
The strata also works with contractors to monitor the more than a dozen construction sites in the neighbourhood for improper bear practices, and contractors receive literature outlining the best strategies to keep wildlife safe.
“We, as a strata, were saying that we’ve been good about educating the construction sites … but let’s make sure that we double down on our efforts to educate everybody in Kadenwood about bear-aware policies that exist in Whistler,” Gave said in a follow-up interview.
Gave has also reached out to Bear Smart to take part in its newly launched neighbourhood watch-group program, intended to mitigate wildlife conflict and raise awareness of bear-related issues in a given area. Neighbourhood groups have already been started in Rainbow and Creekside. (Anyone interested in starting their own neighbourhood watch group should email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In its release, the COS reported that, on Sept. 19, conservation officers attended Kadenwood and confirmed that there had been damage to properties done by bears. It went on to say that officers observed a sow and two cubs nearby, before attempting to haze the animals away “with no success.” The bears reportedly approached the officers at close distances after several attempts to haze them away. The COS said it tranquilized the three bears onsite for “further assessment,” during which time, two other yearling bears appeared and approached the officers. They also did not respond to hazing attempts, the COS said.
The release did not indicate whether the tranquilized bears were relocated or not, and multiple requests from Pique for further information were declined by the COS, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We will be pleased to provide you with all the details when the investigation is complete,” Sgt. Simon Gravel wrote in an email.
Nicole Fitzgerald with Bear Smart questioned the COS’ decision to tranquilize the bears, believing the sow and cubs did not pose a threat to the public.
“The question that I have is actually the action of the COS itself,” she said. “I see this incident as a repeat of what happened with the mother bear who died and the cubs that were located in Creekside.”
On Oct. 8, just weeks after the reported property damage in Kadenwood, a sow bear was killed in Creekside after it was tranquilized by a conservation officer, climbed a nearby tree and then fell to its death.
The COS’ handling of the incident prompted swift backlash, including a formal complaint lodged against the COS by wildlife advocacy group, the Fur-Bearers. Critics questioned why a capture net was not deployed that could have cushioned the bear’s fall. (The COS said it has recently obtained two capture nets and is now testing them for deployment—they should be ready for next year’s bear season.) Others criticized the COS’ decision, based on advice from a provincial biologist, not to relocate the surviving cubs, fearing they may not survive the winter on their own.
It’s unclear whether the sow tranquilized in Kadenwood in September was the same one that was accidentally killed less than a month later in Creekside. The COS said in its release that the sow captured in Kadenwood had been previously relocated and ear-tagged for monitoring, but that officers “were unable to safely determine the tag number of the sow.” Again, it’s unclear why, if the bear was tranquilized, the COS would have been unable to access the tag number.
The COS is asking any witnesses to bear feeding in Kadenwood to contact the agency through its RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.
The Pemberton Wildlife Association and the BC Wildlife Federation are offering rewards totalling up to $4,000 for information leading to a successful conviction. Feeding bears is considered a serious offence under the Wildlife Act.
Pique will update the story as information from the COS becomes available.