Three bears were shot and killed in Revelstoke on Tuesday, including one downtown that prompted the launch of a petition calling for the restoration of the Conservation Officer position in Revelstoke.
Conservation Officer Dan Bartol, who is based in Golden, was in Revelstoke on Tuesday responding to other problem bears when the incident downtown happened. He told the Review he had already killed two bears in town — one in the Big Eddy and the other in Columbia Park.
The bear issue took on greater prominence in the late-afternoon when a bear was seen wandering around downtown at around 5 p.m., at one point entering Wearabouts at the corner of Mackenzie Avenue and Second Street.
It was later found eating food left next to a dumpster in an alleyway near Second Street and Connaught Avenue. At that point, Bartol arrived with two members of the RCMP.
He told the Review he got within three metres of the bear, but the bear ignored hime and continued to dine. Bartol tried to contain the animal in a corner of the alley, but the bear kept returning to the food source.
“The bear had to be destroyed. There was no other option for the bear in this situation,” he said.
Bartol took a first shot to the bear’s body, prompting it to run out to First Street and hide in the doorway of Denny’s Leggings. He took a second shot, killing the bear.
“It was a traumatic experience for everyone for sure,” he said.
It was the third bear killed in Revelstoke on Tuesday. Earlier, a bear that Bartol said looked very unhealthy was killed in the Big Eddy. “It had a very big paws, very big head but was very skinny,” he said.
In Columbia Park, a bear that was spotted running from house to house and that showed no fear of people was also killed.
Later last night, at around 10:30 p.m., another report of a bear eating garbage on someone’s deck in Columbia Park came in. The residents chased the bear away, but when they went to clean up the garbage, the bear charged at them, said Bartol.
“I was able to walk extremely close to it and it just casually walked around,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be a candidate for euthanization as well.
“Across the street from where this happened there is lots of residential garbage the bears have dragged over there and are feasting on,” he added.
Incident prompts petition
The incident downtown prompted the launch of a petition asking for the province the bring a Conservation Officer to Revelstoke. The area has been without one since the previous CO retired in 2013.
“Revelstoke is a beautiful community surrounded on all sides by amazing wilderness. With this pristine location comes the inevitable conflict between humans and wildlife,” the petition states. “An adequately managed conservation program can reduce the number of these conflicts by educating the local community, enforcing legislation designed to protect people and animals alike and responding to conflicts in a timely manner.”
The petition is directed at Mary Polak, the B.C. Minister of the Environment, and has already been signed more than 10 times. Polak has repeatedly denied requests from the community to re-instate a CO here. In January 2015, she wrote a letter to mayor and council saying that Revelstoke could be served by Conservation Officers in Golden, which is at least 90 minute drive from here.
The lack of a CO has led to numerous issues, such as the time in October 2014 when a bear was trapped in a tree outside Home Hardware and it took several officers for Conservation Officers to come from Vernon to tranquilize it and later kill it. In December 2013, RCMP officers shot and killed a bear that was entering people’s yards in the Farwell neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, the Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club has said club members have been called to deal with wildlife situations that would normally be handled by a CO.
The bear that was killed on Tuesday was at least the second one killed in town this summer, after one was destroyed in Columbia Park last month. At the time, Bartol issued a plea for people to secure their garbage and manage their bear attractants.
Bartol said the restaurant that left its food out downtown will be charged for attracting dangerous wildlife and could be fined several hundred dollars if found guilty.
He said the recent increase of bears in town was likely prompted by the end of the berry season, which is causing them to come to town in search of more food. “Bears are looking for unnatural food sources, and the community is providing it for them,” he said.
He once again issued a plea for people to secure their garbage and other bear attractants.
City of Revelstoke responds
Trevor English, the acting mayor of Revelstoke while Mark McKee is on vacation, called the incidents “very unfortunate” and said “we are saddened that they happened.”
He said public safety was the city’s main priority and that residents must take steps to ensure bears aren’t drawn into the community.
“The city encourages residents to be responsible with securing garbage, obeying bylaws, recycling, harvesting fruit and composting,” he wrote in an e-mail responding to questions from the Review. “We live in a mountain town and we should all be extra careful to not create situations that attract bears into our community.”
When asked what steps were being taken to prevent human-bear conflict, he pointed to the work of Bear Aware and changes to the solid waste bylaw which allow for residents to fined for not properly securing garbage or putting it out too early.
As for bear-proof garbage cans, he said a pilot program in Johnson Heights showed problems.
“The garbage cans did not work well in the winter because they froze and the latches would not close and would break,” English wrote. “A few people reported missing cans as bears were taking them into the bush.”
In fact, the 2009 pilot-program was considered a success by Revelstoke Bear Aware. “There’s essentially no bears in Johnson Heights,” co-ordinator Jeannette Vickers told the Review in September 2011. “We’re advocating for the city to purchase these cans city-wide.”
A big problem was the cost of the cans, which was estimated at $500,000 to purchase them city-wide. Last year, when the city sought proposals for private garbage collection, Bresco came back with a bid that would have cost each household more than $250 per year for an automated collection system using bear-proof garbage bins — more than double what residents actually pay.
The city recently moved to a centralized, bear-proof garbage bin in Johnson Heights and is considering installing them in other neighbourhoods.
Lastly, English said the city requested to discuss the return of the Conservation Officer to Revelstoke with Mary Polak, the Minister of the Environment, at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in September.