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West Vancouver man who fed bears in his backyard fined $5,000

The man fed bears, including cubs, leftover food and crackers four times
This photo posted on Instagram in 2018 shows a bear eating a package of crackers after being handed them by an adult man through a sliding glass door in West Vancouver. image Instagram

A West Vancouver man whose family's social media posts about feeding bears in their backyard prompted outrage five years ago has been fined $5,000 by a provincial court judge.

Vitali Shevchenko, 56, was handed the fine Wednesday after pleading guilty in North Vancouver provincial court to a charge of feeding dangerous wildlife under the Wildlife Act.

Crown prosecutor Jim Cryder said Shevchenko, who lives next to a forested area in West Vancouver, fed bears in his backyard on three occasions between June and August of 2017 and once in July 2018.

Pots of food left out for bears

Three of the bear-feeding incidents involved leaving frying pans or cooking pots containing food, including pasta, out for the bears, said Cryder. In one other incident, Shevchenko fed a bear crackers next to a sliding glass door in the presence of his children, said Cryder.

Videos and photos of the bear-feeding were then posted to social media, said Cryder, probably by members of Shevchenko's family.

Conservation officers were first tipped to the bear-feeding activity after a member of the public alerted them in 2018 to posts on Instagram showing children hand-feeding a bear cub crackers. The videos also showed a man feeding a sow a package of crackers from a sliding glass door. Several other posts appeared to show the mother and cub eating food left out for them in the family's backyard.

"In this particular case, Mr. Shevchenko obviously meant to feed the bears," said Cryder in court Wednesday.

Cryder said the biggest risk in feeding bears is that the animals become accustomed to the human food source, increasing the risk of dangerous interactions with people and the likelihood that conservation officers must destroy a bear.

In this case, however, there's no evidence that happened, said Cryder.

The case was originally set for trial. Shevchenko later changed his mind about pleading guilty.

Whistler bear-feeding case was more serious

In court Wednesday, Cryder compared the West Van bear feeding with another high-profile case involving a woman in Whistler who was also fined after pleading guilty to a similar charge under the Wildlife Act.

In October 2021, Zuzana Stevikova was handed an unprecedented $60,000 fine after pleading guilty to feeding bulk produce to bears over the course of one summer. In that case, an investigation by conservation officers found the woman had been feeding black bears produce, including up to 10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and up to 15 dozen eggs weekly, throughout the summer.

The three bears the woman was feeding had to be killed in September 2018 after they wrecked property and showed no fear of people.

Stevikova later appealed the fine, and in December 2022, B.C. Supreme Court Justice J. Miriam Gropper reduced the fine to $10,500.

Cryder said in the Whistler case, "the amount of food she was providing was huge, and the impact on the community was massive."

"She had a belief the bears weren't getting fed enough, so she took it on herself to manage the wildlife, with all kinds of terrible consequences," he said.

In contrast, Shevchenko's actions were on a much smaller scale, he said, involving "a pot of noodles there, a packet of biscuits there."

"It's all bad and wrong, but comparing the scale, it's two different magnitudes," he said.

The Whistler case also resulted in much more dire consequences for the bears, he said.

Cryder added there's no indication Shevchenko has fed bears in the past five years.

Speaking in his defence, Shevchenko told the judge he put the food out to distract the bears from hanging around outside other parts of his house and potentially causing damage. He added he didn't intentionally prepare food for the bears and had no intention of harming wildlife.

Actions 'bad for bears': judge

In handing down the fine, Judge Joseph Galati said he accepted that Shevchenko hadn't set out to feed the bears in his backyard but took advantage of the opportunity to do so when they showed up to take video and photographs.

"What is significant in these cases is the potential for harm," he said, adding, "I've had encounters with bears, personally. I know they become habituated. If somebody feeds them, they will come back."

"Whatever your reasons were for doing this, your reasons were selfish," he told Shevchenko. "You were thinking of what you wanted to do. Not what was good or bad for the bears. Your actions were bad for the bears."

Galati added, however, "I think you've learned your lesson."

He ordered Shevchenko to pay a $200 fine to the court and $4,800 to the Conservation Habitat Trust Fund by Dec. 1, 2023.

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