Grizzly bears, like the one shown in this file photo, are causing problems for local farmers. But conservation officers say local farmers have to do more to prevent harmful interactions.                                 (File photo)

Grizzly bears, like the one shown in this file photo, are causing problems for local farmers. But conservation officers say local farmers have to do more to prevent harmful interactions. (File photo)

Conservation officer says farmers not doing enough after three grizzlies killed

Little uptake on incentive programs for fencing frustrates local conservation officer

A conservation officer in the Castlegar area says he’s frustrated with farmers after seeing three female grizzlies killed earlier this month in the Passmore area.

He says local farmers are not doing enough to protect their properties from bears, resulting in more animal deaths.

“We’re killing grizzly bears for the sake of an $8 chicken,” says officer Blair Thin. “That’s just a little inappropriate.”

Thin says the grizzly bear sow and her two yearling cubs were first spotted in early September in the Paulson Summit and Merry Creek areas.

“The bears were reported healthy looking, a good-looking sow with two cubs, not causing any problems whatsoever,” he says. “Just sightings, posing for pictures by the highway, that kind of thing.”

However, the animals made their way to the Pass Creek area, and began making nuisances of themselves, wandering onto properties and killing chickens — “fast food for bears,” says Thin.

“We have to manage these attractants,” he says. “It’s inevitable you are going to have a black bear or grizzly eating your chickens if you have them running around free range.”

Little is being done by livestock owners to reduce the chance of confrontation, says Thin.

“We found it quite concerning [that] most of the properties did not have any sort of electric fencing, and the ones that did had it completely wrong,” he says.

Eventually, conservation officers had to intervene.

“Nobody had the electric fencing set up prior to the bears showing up,” he says. “The key is to have the fencing set up and working before the bears show up.”

On Oct. 2, the animals were captured in culvert traps, tagged, sampled, and relocated the next day about 30 kilometres away, at the upper end of their home range, near Mount Stanley.

“It was late in the year, which was not an ideal time to relocate bears,” says Thin. “But because the bears were all females, the decision was made to try to retain the females in the population. It would be a pretty big hit on the population to lose three females in one fell swoop.”

It didn’t take long for the animals to return. They were spotted a few days later in the Deer Creek area and eventually began making their way towards the Passmore area.

“They once again started predating on the chickens, free-range chickens, unprotected livestock feed, that kind of thing,” says Thin. “We were surprised and concerned again that people hadn’t taken the effort to put up electric fences, and the ones that did weren’t doing it properly.

“There was never an incident of a direct threat to public safety,” says Thin. “But they were exhibiting some extreme habituation and conditioning. They were reluctant to being scared off by dogs or human activity.”

Conservation officers tried to capture the animals again, without success.

Then the inevitable happened. A Passmore farmer, feeling threatened, shot and killed the sow. Conservation officers responded, and in consultation with the B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch, killed the mother’s two cubs.

Thin says it’s a shame.

“When I’m the one processing a bear after they’ve been destroyed… we’re just looking at these beautiful bears, three females… it’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “But you look at them and you realize, they’re dead, they don’t exist anymore, it’s really sad.

“This is a 100 per cent avoidable scenario. And I don’t mean through a lot of effort or a lot of work. No, it’s through a simple tool — electric fencing would have prevented this in a heartbeat.”

He hopes farmers and farm hobbyists will take the opportunity to do what’s right, and electrify their properties.

“Even though these bears are gone and removed and they’re not a threat anymore, you are always going to have bears in that area,” he says. “You can get an electric fence, it’s being subsidized 50 per cent. It’s being handed to you with a bow on it. Take advantage of it.”

A free workshop on electrification is being held on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Pass Creek Community Hall. It will feature Gillian Sanders from Grizzly Bear Solutions talking about fencing and grizzly bear safety.

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