The death of a bear near a Port Coquitlam school Sept. 21 is drawing heat from neighbours who say conservation officers were over zealous in handling a complaint.
What started as a call by the school principal at Birchland elementary school about a bear in a school field turned frightening at neighbouring Cedar Drive elementary, say parents, who said they were shocked to see a conservation officer with a gun and saddened to hear the bear had been killed.
However, it turns out the bear wasn’t intentionally killed but was tranquilized to be assessed for possible relocation but died when it hit the ground.
In what Insp. Murray Smith of the BC Conservation Officer Service said was a rare but unfortunate outcome, the bear never revived after it fell 12 feet from the tree.
“The officer didn’t realize it actually died — 12 feet isn’t very high — and then they loaded it in the trap and the officer was waiting for it to revive, and the bear didn’t revive and we recognized the bear died in the fall.”
BEAR SPOTTED AT BIRCHLAND
The bear was spotted at Birchland at about 2:15 p.m. on Sept. 21, but walked toward Cedar Drive elementary school, where it was eventually treed at nearby Cedar Park.
Smith said only one officer attended as well as members of the RCMP, who were concerned about a bear near a school.
Still, neighbours are upset about what they feel was a heavy-handed approach to the incident.
“The bear was no threat, that’s kind of frustrating,” said Stacey Gokool, who was walking with her son to her car at about 3 p.m., when school let out that afternoon.
She said she saw police speeding through the school zone and a conservation officer carrying a gun. She and her son were yelled at by the CO to leave the area. There were other children nearby, she said, as school was just letting out.
“It was super over-kill,” said Gokool, who suggested officers should have been less threatening around students, some of whom ended up in tears, and used de-escalation techniques to deal with the public and the bear.
But for Smith, who has had to tranquilize bears in his 34 years as a CO, a bear hanging out in broad daylight at a school is a cause for concerns and he defended the officer’s actions. However, he said it’s unfortunate the bear died because it could have been a candidate for relocation. Such a death is an “anomaly,” Murray said.
LOWER THAN AVERAGE BEAR DEATHS
Contrary to reports on Facebook, this hasn’t been a bad year for bear conflicts, he noted. Only four bears have been killed in the city this year, including one on Sept. 9, that charged a man in a wheel chair and was food conditioned, another that had to be euthanized on Rowland Street after it was hit by a car on Sept. 24 and the Sept. 21 incident.
In fact, there have been more relocations than bear killings this year. In the Fraser North zone, which includes Maple Ridge and the Tri-Cities, 10 bears have been relocated, while four bears have been euthanized in Port Coquitlam and four in Coquitlam because of conflict situations. That’s lower than average, according to Smith.
“We hope that’s a trend that continues,” he said.
Another two cubs have been sent to Critter Care Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Langley.
As to the claims the conservation officer handled the situation improperly, Smith said he couldn’t confirm that the officer yelled at parents and students, but he said officers are trained to communicate in a professional manner.
“These are fairly heightened moments of stress for everyone and public safety is paramount, we want to make sure we communicate to the public. We do need them to move along quickly.”
City issues 68 $500 fines
Meanwhile, the city of Port Coquitlam is reminding residents to remove all animal attractants as this is the time of year when bears fatten up for hibernation. The city will also be rolling out a series of bear awareness educational videos on social media.
Residents and businesses can do their part and avoid a $500 fine by securing garbage and food scraps in either a wildlife-resistant enclosure (e.g. garage or shed) or by using the city’s wildlife-resistant cart lock or a lock certified by the BC Conservation Foundation.
Carts can only be set out between between 5:30-7:30 a.m. on collection day and have to be re-secured by 7 p.m.
So far 68 fines have been issued in the city and a recent audit found 40 properties not compliant with these rules.
More information about the city’s Bear Aware program can found on the city’s website.
Fruit should be picked and bird seed removed, as well. But not everyone takes heed of these requests to keep bears away.
On Facebook this week is a photo of a bear eating grapes from someone’s grape vine while it balances on a trellis.
It turns out the image was photographed at a home in Port Coquitlam.