Residents say police shot a roaming bear around 9 p.m. in Stewart last night, upsetting neighbours who say they were alarmed to hear the sound of gunshots.
Kalvin Sims says he saw police officers firing bullets into the dark, killing the young black bear close to his parent’s home between 6th and 7th Avenue. He says the sound woke up other neighbours who were confused and upset by the commotion.
“[The officers] were in uniform but in the pitch black, so you don’t see the RCMP. I yelled out, ‘What is going on?’ And they said, ‘Not safe, go back home!’ Still, you don’t know it’s police, you have no idea,” Sims says.
“Then I went, ‘Wait, are you the RCMP?’ And then all of a sudden, you could hear people in my neighbourhood screaming, ‘What are you doing? Did you just shoot a bear?’
“Numerous neighbours were very angry, screaming and yelling at the police, asking ‘What is going on? What is wrong? You’re shooting into the dark!'”
Neighbours say the young black bear was first spotted in the area hours before eating berries and climbing trees on private property, close to a salmon-bearing stream.
“We were watching the bear, we saw him up in the tree and then some other people pointed up to the tree and let us know to be aware,” says resident Patricia Eyre. “He wasn’t aggressive, he was scared out of his mind. He just wanted to leave.”
Eyre says the bear was in-between the buildings behind a truck on the property across the street from her house when barking dogs scared the bear up a tree.
She says an off-duty paramedic then came to the door and told her another person had sprayed the bear with pepper spray and residents should be cautious.
Sims says the bear had then become agitated after which police shot the animal. He says he watched as RCMP recovered the body of the young bear Friday morning.
The sound of gunshots in the middle of town without notice about what was going on was a traumatizing and stressful experience, Sims says. He says he could see sparks flying from the bullets in the dark, and estimates he heard two rounds of gunshots fired.
“People’s houses are there, there’s a hotel, workshops, it’s the prominent core of this small community. The municipal hall is here, there are schools trickling down the road, kids play hide-and-seek in the bushes, I know I did as a child growing up here. It’s not okay,” he says.
In an emailed complaint sent to the District of Stewart, Sims says both he and his mother were upset that RCMP had not knocked on their door to alert them as to what was going on. He says he spoke with an RCMP constable at the Stewart detachment who confirmed a black bear had been shot aimed towards the Alpine Hotel.
“My mother was crying, we were alarmed that nobody, absolutely nobody knocked, informed us, that potentially our safety was at risk,” Sims wrote. He also noted the absence of conservation officers to deal with the bear’s remains.
The District of Stewart says they have received the letter and will be organizing a conversation with RCMP to confirm what had happened.
A large bin of garbage that had been left out in the back alley was thought to have attracted the bear into the neighbourhood, Eyre says. “When you live in a place like this you should be bear aware enough to keep your trash out of the way, they’re being baited,” she says.
With a helicopter port in Stewart, Eyre says she wonders why the bear couldn’t have been tranquilized and airlifted somewhere else instead of being shot in the neighbourhood. “We have a helicopter port here, what the heck? We have helicopters all over this town and you’re going to shoot him?”
With Stewart being so close to wildlife, Sims says residents in the community are used to animals like bears and wolves living in close proximity despite efforts to keep attractants at bay. Often neighbours are hesitant to call officials when seeing intruding wildlife because they don’t want to see the animals destroyed, he says.
“You’re in a zone where you’re in the wild, so there has to be a respect for wildlife. This is only something that will happen again, it touches a lot of locals’ hearts because they’re animal lovers,” Sims says.
The RCMP’s regional headquarters in Prince George had no record of a bear being shot and no one was immediately available for comment at the Stewart RCMP detachment.