The bear shot by RCMP in Stewart last week on Sept. 20 presented a threat to public safety and had to be euthanized, says Const. Rod Gardner.
He explains the young black bear was first spotted in Stewart a week prior on Sept. 14. Police began working with the closest conservation office out of Smithers three hours away to determine the next course of action.
“We work in consultation with [conservation] to bait the [bear trap] and deploy it when they can’t make it here, because we do live in bear country,” Gardner says.
The bear was feeding on berries and apples, and was not considered dangerous at the time. RCMP had set out the bear trap provided by conservation in the area where it was spotted with the hopes of catching the bear and relocating it.
“That’s what makes rural policing in an area like Stewart different than Terrace or Smithers, where we have limited resources and we have to do things a little differently and in consultation with these special sections.”
The bear did not go into the trap and had disappeared for a couple of days. Then on Sept. 17, the detachment received several calls about the bear being in a residential neighbourhood near the RCMP detachment, in the Brightwell Street and Conway Street area.
“I then relocated the bear trap to this side of town in the hopes to catch and relocate the bear,” Gardner says. “It wasn’t being aggressive towards any person, actually any time anyone had seen it, it would runoff.”
Two days later at approximately 7:30 p.m., RCMP dispatched two officers after receiving a call from the Silverado Cafe on 5th Avenue about a bear who had broken into the restaurant’s garbage. An employee had seen the animal outside and felt threatened enough to spray it with bear spray through an open window.
The bear was also reported going through the garbage at the Ripley Creek Hotel earlier that day, Gardner says.
“After consultation with conservation service, they advised us that once the bear was located, it should be euthanized.”
The officers located the bear in the southeast industrial area of town, however there was no safe way to shoot at it. The bear ran back into town to the corner of 6th Avenue and Brightwell Street and stopped in an open lot. An officer then fired two rounds at the bear, Gardner says.
Once the bear was hit, it ran into an adjacent swamp. The officers tried to track and locate the bear to make sure it had been killed, but they were unable to find it in the dark. The body of the young bear was recovered by RCMP with the assistance from the District of Stewart the following morning, when officers found it had succumbed to its wounds.
Since the incident, some residents have voiced concern and anger over the death of the bear and the sound of gunshots heard in the neighbourhood. Gardner says the decision to euthanize the bear in a residential area was not made lightly.
“There are obviously a lot of safety concerns, one with the bear harming the public… on top of that, to shoot it in town in a residential area, we always have to consider our backdrops of the people,” he says. “The reason why we had to euthanize the bear was for public safety. Now it’s getting into garbages, it’s going to cause a problem, it’s going to hurt someone.”
Gardner says when officers were tracking the bear, they did not have time to go door-to-door and notify the public about what was going on. They did update their dispatch office so if there was a shots-fired call, the person would be notified.
“Once [the bear] is into garbage and used to being in town, it’s getting comfortable and no longer scared of humans. We liaisoned with conservation and gave them the details, and they agreed the bear would need to be euthanized when it’s safe to do so,” he says, noting public safety is the detachments top priority.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to euthanize the bear in town, and it created a bit of a disturbance. However, the public safety outweighed the disturbance of us putting down a bear in town.”