A black bear caught in a trap in Port Alice near the end of August. (Brian Grover/Port Alice News and Views Facebook photo)

A black bear caught in a trap in Port Alice near the end of August. (Brian Grover/Port Alice News and Views Facebook photo)

Here’s why bears are being euthanized in the Village of Port Alice

Conservation said they will start giving out warning letters and violation tickets to repeat offenders

Four black bears have been euthanized so far during the month of August in the Village of Port Alice.

Port Alice has a population of a little over 700 people and is located in Quatsino First Nation traditional territory on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It was originally known for its pulp mill that first started production all the way back in 1917, but the mill ended up going into bankruptcy in 2020 before being decommissioned and torn down in 2021-2022.

Port Alice is known for its rugged, outdoor beauty and plentiful wildlife. North Island Gazette freelancer Debra Lynn has lived in the village since 2010. She said she enjoys living there because it’s so close to nature and features a quiet pace of life away from “crowds, pollution and [the] hustle bustle [of the city].”

Due to living so close to wilderness, seeing bears around the village is a natural occurrence that’s largely unavoidable.

What isn’t unavoidable, however, is making sure you’re not leaving out food attractants that will cause bear conflicts.

Steve Petrovic, conservation officer for the North Island Zone (which covers the vast area from Buckley Bay all the way to Bella Bella), says attractants are what ultimately caused the four bears to be euthanized throughout August.

“People are not securing their garbage in a proper manner,” he confirmed, “and there are other attractants in the community, such as some people still having bird feeders out and other folks putting things in their compost that can be an attractant, but I would say the number one violation is how garbage is being managed.”

Petrovic noted one thing that has come to light due to this ordeal is that the village’s garbage collection contractor had a mechanical equipment failure that “ultimately influenced the frequency of which those commercial bins would be picked up and emptied.”

He pointed out that with regards to all of the garbage bins he had personally inspected in the village, they were all functioning properly, and then added that the real issue was several of those commercial bins scattered throughout the community were overflowing and people were placing garbage over top of them and beside them.

“Even when they were empty, we still had people who were too lazy to ensure that the locking mechanism was engaged so that the top of the bin can’t just be pushed up and accessed by a bear.”

All of these issues combined is what ended up forcing conservation’s hand and led to the euthanization of the four bears.

“These bears continued to exhibit garbage habituated behaviour,” Petrovic confirmed. “The bears became accustomed to essentially walking through the middle of town and finding garbage to rip open and feed on.”

This kind of learned behaviour is what led to the bears walking onto people’s decks, pushing on doors, and then going into carports and accessing deep freezers to get at the frozen meat inside.

“When a bear has progressed to the point where it’s desensitized and has habitual behaviour, unfortunately the CO service has to make the decision that it’s not a relocation candidate,” he added.

This is when the animals have to be destroyed.

Petrovic said conservation has had a few meetings with the Village of Port Alice now, and he said they have been trying to get the word out to the community that they will progress to giving out warning letters and violation tickets.

“We can also use what is referred to a ‘dangerous wildlife protection order,’ which is a formal order to remove the attractant or access to the attractant.”

He noted if they still don’t see compliance after that, it could be escalated even further.

“We certainly have the option of pushing the matter into provincial court so the person or party can stand up before a judge and explain why they made the choices they made that put both people and bears at risk.”

However, it’s not all bad news. There are some people in the community of Port Alice who are very passionate about wanting to keep bears safe. Petrovic said he was “very impressed by the actions of [those] individuals.”

Finally, Petrovic wanted to make it clear that conservation officers do not enjoy having to euthanize animals.

“It’s extremely frustrating to have to destroy an otherwise healthy animal that has been influenced by bad human behaviour… it’s the least favourite part of any CO’s job.”

Port Alice mayor Kevin Cameron wasn’t immediately available for comment, but village staff posted on its social media account that the reason bears are being euthanized “lies 100 per cent with our own community.”

The post added while there is lots of talk about becoming a bear smart community, “that will only be successful if we, as a community, take responsibility for our own actions, and take some extra time to educate ourselves, neighbours, and visitors to the area. Laziness is the leading cause of death for these bears and regardless of what tools we use to collect the attractants, bears will continue to die if humans do not take responsibility for their actions.”

“It is important to take some time to learn how to secure your garbage correctly, take action to haze, or scare, bears away immediately when they come into the community, and report early so action can be taken before a bear has become habituated.”

RELATED: Bear cubs rescued from Port Alice tree, sent to wildlife rehabilitation centre

RELATED: Two black bears euthanized in Port Hardy after man aggressively pursued


@NIGazette
editor@northislandgazette.com

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