The killing of a mother bear and capture of her three cubs has left many Burns Lake residents heartbroken, angry and in search of answers from the B.C. Conservation Office.
On the eve of June 26, Burns Lake Conservation Officer Jeff Palm received a phone call from a resident who said there had been a bear in the neighbourhood on East Tchesinkut Road for the last three years and that it had become increasingly bold and fearless of people.
The resident had placed the call after witnessing the bear kill a deer faun on the front lawn of the residences, according to Palm.
On the following day of June 27, Palm said he went out to East Tchesinkut Road and spoke to the caller who was at a household with two other individuals. He also spoke to another resident in another household nearby. Both persons claimed that the bear had begun to bluff charge some of the residents there. The second resident told Palm about an additional incident where the bear chased an individual off the deck.
“With that information, I decided to set a bear trap there,” said Palm.
Palm said on June 29, he captured a bear sow. This was the bear which the locals affectionately called “Scruffy.” She was destroyed by the conservation officer while her three cubs hid up inside a nearby tree until they were tranquilized and taken to Northern Lights Sanctuary in Smithers.
This was upsetting to some residents and that afternoon, local resident of 20 years, Tammy Konkin arrived at the scene with a friend as Palm returned with an empty trap to prepare to tranquilize the cubs. Konkin had noticed the bear trap at the end of Glen Road a few days prior and decided to keep her eye out for the conservation officer so she could speak to him.
“He didn’t really want to talk to me,” said Konkin, “I asked him ‘did you phone anybody else? Are you doing this on just one phone call?’ And he just would not answer me.”
Another upset local resident Helene Loetscher has been trying to set up an appointment with the conservation service to demand the same information as Konkin.
“What is the policy in B.C.?” said Loetscher, “I think they should relocate but apparently, they don’t. Do they really need just one person to call in and say he was attacked for the CO [conservation officer] to go out and see what happened? Because nobody saw it as a threat. Nobody else,” she said.
According to Palm, relocating bears is more of a “feel good” thing and does not really provide a solution as bears will often travel back to what they know to be their homes.
“It’s not been dealt with when a bear is travelling over mountain ranges, rivers and train tracks and roads just to get back to where it came from,” said Palm.
Loetscher said she’d had a few sightings of the mother bear and her cubs over the last three years. On one occasion, the mother bear had gone into the lake with her cubs as Loetscher sat and watched from her lawn chair. Loetscher said that when she moved her chair and made a noise, the mother bear immediately got herself and her cubs out of the water and scurried away.
“Most of the neighbours are totally in shock. We miss her and can’t believe what happened,” said Loetscher.
Dan Plante moved to Burns Lake six years ago. His grandmother lives on the end of the lake opposite to his residence. According to Plante, there is a barn on his grandmother’s property where the mother bear had her cubs came to graze.
“We saw these bears all the time,” said Plante. “I have biked past them with my dog about two times, and no aggression. She’ll send her babies far up into the tree and we’ll peddle carefully on the far side of the road,” said Plante.
Plante had heard that a few people living in a cluster of year-round residences and vacation properties had witnessed a bear take a deer faun in her mouth and run across the yard of one of these residences. He wanted to know whether the call to the conservation officer was made by one of these witnesses.
“Welcome to the north. You live in the bush and you’re going to have the same problem with deer and moose,” said Plante.
“I can’t say that I do a background check on people to determine the validity of their complaint or if they’re in the know. When I have a series of people telling me that there is a bear issue, I believe them and when I set a trap and catch a bear within a day, I mean they’re right. There is a bear there that was willing to enter a container and take bate,” said Palm.
In an email, Palm stated that the local conservation service has recorded a total of 83 nuisance bear reports within the greater Burns Lake area since April 1 of this year.
Many more residents have since expressed their concerns and feelings of disappointment with the way the conservation service handled the mama bear in their community.
“We are so incredibly soul sick about this. She was a lovely docile little creature. Every day that we saw them made our hearts joyous,” Debra Glover, a resident of East Tchesinkut Road for 22 years, stated in an email.
Jon and Alida Bruce also wrote in an email that they were concerned for the mother bear who was killed and had her cubs taken away for no good reason.
“It should not be up to a couple of people to decide the destiny of our black bears in our community,” their email stated.