By Phil McLachlan
Fernie was the second district in British Columbia to be assigned a game warden, back in the very early 1900’s.
Frank DeBoon has served as a conservation officer in the Fernie area since June of 1988, but had been outdoors most of his early life before that. With two brothers to share a love of the outdoors, hunting, fishing and wilderness survival is something that has been ingrained into his system.
DeBoon is responsible for many things, and these depend very heavily on the season. Summer and fall are the busiest times of the years, as DeBoon is faced with many human/wildlife interactions as well as multiple poaching disputes.
“A day in the life is just about always different,” said DeBoon. “You can have one thing planned, then the phone rings and all your plans change and you might be busy for two or three days. It could be bears you’re dealing with or it could be an enforcement issue.”
Hunting season is still currently in play; white-tailed buck season continues to the end of November, at which time the bow-season for white-tailed buck will start and continue till December 20.
The archery bull elk season started on Sept 1 and continued until Sept. 9. From Sept 10 to the Oct. 20 was six point bull elk season. Some areas have a spike bull restriction for the first ten days of the season.
There have been eight deer so far this season that have been caught illegally in some way. Four bighorn sheep have been seized, three of them were short of being legal size and one is still currently under investigation for being shot on one of the mining properties.
“Hunting and fishing are the types of sports where you don’t have a referee sitting there,” said DeBoon. “There isn’t somebody sitting there to bonk you on the head and say, let that fish go.”
DeBoon sees a very small percentage, (three to five per cent)of hunters go out of their way to break the rules and do something illegal. He sees the majority of the population as very honest, and trustworthy. However, when DeBoon is faced with a major case where someone has done something wrong, he takes several factors into consideration.
“When you are catching somebody, you have to look at whether they intended to do it illegally, or whether it was done by accident,” said DeBoon. “We treat people a lot different that way too. And people that turn themselves in when they’ve made a mistake, you have to respect them for that because it’s a hard thing to do, to admit you’ve made a mistake.”
Cases are very specific, and fines range from $100, and can skyrocket to $2000 or more, depending on the severity and intent.
So far in the season, DeBoon has seized 10 elk, with meat that has been salvaged and given to the food bank. There have been a few more that were reported but could not be salvaged due to the meat being unfit for consumption.
“That’s kind of a general season as far as we go,” said DeBoon. “There might be a few less elk or deer but that’s fairly common. Last year we had a lot more bears. This year the bears have been fairly quiet.”
There have only been two bears dispatched in Fernie and three so far in Sparwood. Last season was far more extreme, with around 30 bears dispatched between the areas of Elko and Elkford. This summer, berries came in full bloom, giving the bears plenty to feast on.
“Last year was a bit of a gong-show,” said DeBoon. “We didn’t have a very good berry crop, so the bears were coming into town looking for food because of the dry summer and other conditions.”
In addition to having a bad crop, bears were forced into town in search of food, and found it. DeBoon saw garbage as a contributing factor to the bears sticking around town. He believes it is extremely important that people are aware of the risks you take when being careless with garbage, and the risks you can avoid if you properly dispose of your waste.
“We all have an effect on wildlife,” he added. “Our town sites are put into valley bottoms which are migration corridors for most animals, so we affect them that way. What we do and how we do it can affect whether or not the bears go through town or whether they stop and start to get into trouble.”
A grizzly bear’s sense of smell is astounding, and it makes attractants of any kind a liability in urban areas.
“There was an old-time writer for Outdoor Life, Jack O’Connor,” said DeBoon. “And he described the sense of smell of bears as being able to smell what color your grandmother’s wedding dress was,” said DeBoon with a laugh. “Now that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it just typifies what sense of smell they have.”
DeBoon has encountered many situations where a bear has smelled some food and done whatever it took to obtain it, whether that be breaking into a garbage can, a shed or even a car.
Asked to recall his most eye-opening experience, DeBoon paused to think.
“I’ve dealt with people that have been mauled by grizzly bears, so those are probably the scariest, or highest emotional calls you can get.”
DeBoon has also had to deal with people who have shot bears at close range, in self defense.
“You can tell by their face if it’s really happened to them; their eyes will be like saucers and they’re probably very pale,” said DeBoon. “Even the next day, they’ll be shaking, and they’ll have a hard time functioning. When you see someone in that condition, you know they’ve had quite a close encounter.”
Since he started in the business, times have changed and in relation, so has his job. With technology becoming more dominant, DeBoon finds that his field time has been severely decreased. With large cases and investigations, some require weeks of office time to piece together, especially before a large court case.
“At the end of the day, you look in the mirror and say, was I fair to people or not?” said DeBoon.
DeBoon interacts very closely with nature, and he sees firsthand, the effect we have on it. Right now, DeBoon is working on a case where a man shot a deer because it was eating his flowers.
“We have a tendency to think, as people, that this is my property. When you think of this being our earth, how did it become our earth? We’re just fortunate to live on this planet. You have to be a little bit flexible; everybody can live here and get along, the wildlife included.”