Bella Coola Valley residents are being asked to be vigilant about removing bear attractants from their properties such as garbage and recycling after two grizzly bears were killed by the Conservation Officer Service in recent weeks.
“It’s a very vulnerable time for bears,” said Hana Anderson, a conservation officer in the Bella Coola Valley.
Anderson said up until now it has been a very good year in the valley, meaning they had few problem bear calls this year compared to 2019, until last week.
An older, underweight sow without cubs was the first grizzly bear to be destroyed by officers this year on Oct. 16 after it became a public safety concern. Anderson said the bear displayed habituated behaviour.
“She persistently pushed in and wouldn’t leave a yard after a large amount of effort right near a daycare and a school,” Anderson said.
“We tried as much as we could to make her go away and it just wasn’t working so, due to the public safety risk, she was destroyed, unfortunately.”
Anderson believed the grizzly was attracted to recycling in the area.
The next day, the COS received another bear complaint; this time the call was about a sow grizzly with three healthy cubs that was charging at and hitting the side of a house early Saturday morning, Oct. 17.
Anderson said she initially hazed the animal with lights and sound and was driving away from the bear when it turned around and charged the back of the COS truck and sustained fatal injuries.
“I have never seen anything like that before, I did not expect that at all. It was pretty sad,” Anderson said of the situation, which forced COS to euthanize the injured bear. “It is very unusual behaviour for a grizzly bear to charge at and hit the side of a house and then to do that to a vehicle.”
There were attractants in the area, she noted.
The grizzly, which was not known to officers, appeared healthy. It is unknown why the bear showed heightened aggression.
The three cubs — two females and one male — were captured by officers and have since been taken by the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers where they will be cared for and released back in to the Bella Coola area next year.
Not managing attractants is always a safety concern, Anderson said.
“People could get hurt and the bears could get hurt,” she said, urging residents to secure garbage and recycling.
“We’ve got another month and a half where we should expect bears are going to be out looking for food.”
Angelika Langen of Northern Lights Wildlife Society said the cubs transported well without concern and are now starting to calm down and eat well.
Since 1996 the shelter has received 12 grizzly bears (an all-time high was 2010, when the shelter received five grizzly bears) and seven black bears from Bella Coola.
The last time the shelter received this many grizzly cubs was in 2018; the story was very similar.
“It is normal to get less black bears out of areas with a large grizzly population as there are less black bears present. We see that in other regions too,” explained Langen. “As you can see our relationship with the Bella Coola officials has resulted in better use of rehabilitation options in the past 10 years. In our first 20 years of operation they used it only once.”