Conservation officers close the area of Grave Prairie

Bears encounters increase in the Elk Valley

Conservation officers want to remind the public to be extra cautious of bears in the area after two weekend encounters.

Conservation officers want to remind the public to be extra cautious of bears in the area after two weekend encounters in Sparwood and Fernie.

Close to 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, a hunter encountered a grizzly bear in the Grave Prairie area, northeast of Sparwood. The grizzly bear, which was with her cub, attacked the man, who received non-life threatening injuries from the encounter.

“After he was attacked, the hunter was able to walk out to the road where he received a ride from a passerby who gave him a ride to his camp and from his camp, he was transported immediately to the hospital in Sparwood,” said conservation officer sergeant Cam Schley.

Conservation officers were sent back to the area of the attack in the afternoon to determine what happened.

“The outcome of the investigation was that he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and surprised a sow and cub grizzly bear that was feeding on a freshly killed cow elk carcass,” said Schley.

Because conservation officers determined that it was a defensive attack, it was decided to not trap the grizzly bear or her cub.

“The actions of the bears didn’t warrant them trying to be trapped. They were doing something that is a natural defensive thing,” Schley said.

The area has been closed to hunters and recreational use and will remain closed until further notice from the conservation officer service.

This is the fourth bear attack in the province in two weeks, and the third in the East Kootenays. Earlier this month, a man was attacked just east of Cranbrook, and another was attacked near Canal Flats. The fourth attack occurred in Fort Nelson over Labour Day weekend.

Schley said that people need to be aware of the extreme bear danger this year, mostly caused by a lack of food supply for the bears. “We’re getting a number of bear complaints from the entire Elk Valley – Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie it’s a very busy fall for bear complaints for the COS this year. We are attributing that to a very poor berry crop because of the hot dry summer,” he said, adding that the food shortage is causing bears to venture into areas that they normally wouldn’t be comfortable in.

The increased sightings of bears have been common throughout the Elk Valley. Kathy Murray of Wildsafe BC reported that 12 bears have been terminated in Fernie in a 10 day span, from Sept. 4 to Sept. 14.

A mother and her two cubs were euthanized on Sept. 12, after they were spotted running through James White Park.

“I was actually playing in a tennis tournament in James White Park and one of the dogs started barking and we noticed a bear and two cubs walking through the Frisbee golf course and making her way towards the airport sub division,” she said. “Five minutes later, we heard a loud gunshot and then a cub howling – it was awful.”

Murray said that bear encounters are preventable if the correct measures are taken.

“Lock up garbage, clean up fruit trees, don’t bate bears into your backyard and if bears do appear in your backyard and it’s safe to do so, scare them away. Bears natural fear of humans is it’s only safety net. By bating bears into communities and approaching and feeding wildlife, we are contributing to them eventually coming after easy food sources, causing public damage and threatening public safety and then they have to be destroyed,” she said, adding that it’s “really distressing and it’s entirely preventable.”

“Garbage, apples, bird seed, pet food and other attractants accessible to bears on your property is like inviting someone to dinner and then shooting them in the head,” Murray said.

Both Murray and Schley want to remind people to use a heightened sense of awareness when venturing outside and to take the proper precautions to deter bears from residential areas.

“We’re asking the community to help prevent the needless destruction of bears and to keep our community safe. Again it’s policy to rely on citizen’s complaints as a mean of enforcing bylaws. We have bylaws in all of our Elk Valley communities so we’re asking people, if you notice people with garbage out or unpicked fruit trees, please contact the local bylaw officer to report it,” said Murray.

To report a bear sighting, contact the conservation officer service’s reporting line at 1-877-952-7277.