Garbage in non bear-proof containers is just one attractant easily accessed by bears. (contributed)

Deaths of five bears in Penticton ‘a wake-up call’

Euthanization of five bears in Penticton Thursday has emotions running high in the city

Sadness, frustration and relief were some of the emotions described by those involved in what’s believed to be an unprecedented euthanization of five black bears in Penticton Thursday, Oct. 24.

The sadness they said was a result of having to end the lives of the garbage-habituated but otherwise healthy animals, the frustration being with residents unwilling to manage attractants on their properties and the relief was that no one, especially none of the 200 students at Wiltse Elementary School, was attacked.

READ MORE: ‘This is nearly unprecedented’: Five bears killed in Penticton

Sgt. James Zucchelli of the BC Conservation Officer Service during an earlier bear attractant patrol in the Wiltse area where five bears were euthanized Oct. 24. (File photo)

According to conservation officers, the ordeal started on Wednesday night after a 20-year-old man was charged by a bear but not injured.

On Thursday morning, things went from bad to worse, after residents spotted a group of five bears in a green space just metres from the school grounds.

The sad irony on this day was that at almost the same time the situation was unfolding in Wiltse, there was a celebration in Naramata for its second, consecutive five-year designation as a Bear Smart Community.

Zoë Kirk, the Wildsafe BC coordinator, was in Naramata attending the event when she heard that three adult males and two sub-adult females were shot and killed by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

“For our region, this is nearly unprecedented,” said Kirk “They couldn’t remember in 28 years if this has ever happened before that so many bears at once had to be destroyed.”

She said at first she was worried it would dampen the celebration in Naramata but upon reflection, she realized that as tragic as it was, it could be used as a wake-up call for the entire region.

“What it does is it provides that juxtaposition. One community that really works together in a bear area can actually make a difference as opposed to another area that may not be managing their attractants, 17 kilometres down the road,” she said the next day.

“Maybe it’s good to use them both together. It shows that when we point fingers at the Conservation Officer Service there are four fingers pointing back at us. They are not killing bears just to kill bears, they’re killing bears because garbage has habituated them, fruit and nut trees have habituated them. We haven’t cleaned up our yards, we don’t keep good care of our garbage — that’s what kills bears.”

She said she empathized with the two officers who were dispatched to the scene.

“Not an easy decision to make when you have public safety on one side and the bears on the other. Fortunately, I’m the educator, I’m not the one that has to make the decision.”

According to Sgt. James Zucchelli, who was one of the attending officers, the bears had been causing problems in the area for about a week to 10 days and were becoming increasingly brazen, leaving no other option but euthanization.

Four of the five bears that were euthanized in the Wiltse area Thursday. (Contributed)

“These decisions do not come lightly and it takes a toll on us as conservation officers when we are forced into these situations,” he said Friday. “Public safety is our number one mandate. Insecure attractants caused these bears to become a public safety threat.”

A month earlier he had been doing patrols in the same area as part of a campaign to crack down on people putting their garbage out the night before.

It is contrary to a city bylaw to put garbage out on the street before 7 a.m. the day of pickup or leave it out after 7 p.m.

City of Penticton Bylaw Services Supervisor Tina Siebert said the department does not do regular evening patrols for garbage but does respond in situations like this one where there is an issue.

“The last little bit we had some complaints about bears in the area and people putting their bins out too soon so we’re working with all those property owners to remind them,” said Siebert. “We are just warning them, taking the educative approach and not fines.”

The fine is $100.

Initially, Kirk was supposed to attend Wiltse Elementary on Monday, which was locked down when conservation officers were on the scene, to talk with the students about what happened, but that will now likely happen at a later date.

“I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this in the 10 years I’ve been working with Wildsafe, I’ve never had to go in and talk about that many bears being destroyed — it’s usually one,” she said. “I’ve never found the kids to be traumatized or angry after we’ve had our talk. I don’t think we give kids enough credit, I mean they tell on their parents to me, they get it.”

According to Kirk, it’s only when communities get serious about bears — like Naramata — that the conflicts between humans and bears will be reduced.

READ MORE: CO’s in South Okanagan getting the ‘bear’ facts out

She pointed to Summerland as another current hot spot of such conflicts and where the message is not getting through.

In the five years of Bear Smart in Naramata only two bears have been euthanized, one of which was very sick.

In the same time frame, 16 bears have been killed in Summerland, including six this year.

“That doesn’t mean there are less bears in Naramata. It means that there are more bears in Naramata because they haven’t had to kill six a year. It’s just people there have learned to co-exist with them,” she said. “It’s really up to us at this juncture to say are we going to accept this or are we going to change our behaviours so that we don’t have the Conservation Officer Service come in and do this again.

“I’m hoping that we can use this so that the lives of those bears aren’t wasted.”

To learn more about attractant management go to www.wildsafebc.com and for sightings and other issues regarding wildlife call 1-877-952-7277.


 

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