Grizzly Bears Plague Bella Coola, B.C.

Vancouver Sun, Bear Hunting Magazine
04/02/2007

Juanita Neidrauer got into the alpaca and llama business to feed her
gentle art of weaving and spinning. Little did she know that six of her
native South American animals would meet a violent end, victims of a
male grizzly bear's one-night killing rampage on B.C.'s central coast.

"What alpacas and llamas do, if there is a danger, they run towards it,"
explained Neidrauer, a 68-year-old resident of Hagensborg in the Bella
Coola Valley. "They sort of attack it."

That tactic might work in the high reaches of the Andes. But on the
grizzly-laden B.C. coast? Not so much.

"They attacked that bear and it probably made him mad," Neidrauer said.
"This guy must have been pretty persistent to kill them all -- the last
one a real fighter. He didn't eat them, didn't do anything, just plainly
killed them."

The Vancouver Sun learned about Neidrauer's case based on
freedom-of-information documents related to the number of grizzly bears
shot in 2006 in defence of people and property.

Typically, private individuals or provincial conservation officers kill
50 to 60 such grizzlies per year.

Neidrauer said the bear gutted the alpacas and llamas or broke their
backs before realtor Leon Barnett -- a friend who was boarding them in a
fenced 100-by-300-metre pasture on his property -- shot it dead.

The experience last June cost Neidrauer close to $30,000 and reinforced
her opinion that the Bella Coola Valley, 450 kilometres west of Williams
Lake, is overrun with grizzlies and something has to be done.

"We have to be reasonable," she said. "We just can't go out and shoot,
shoot, shoot the bears. But there are too many grizzly bears for this
area."

Grizzlies are shot around B.C. for clawing their way into chicken coops,
wandering into fish farms, pilfering from residential garbage cans, and
raiding aboriginal smokehouses and remote hunting and fishing camps.

Humans often have no one to blame but themselves for such dangerous
encounters, including carelessly leaving out attractants. That's often
the case with hunters: they may fail to store their game out of reach of
bears, and instinctively reach for a gun instead of pepper spray, or
fail to use inexpensive portable electric fences.

The Ministry of Environment estimates B.C. has 17,000 grizzly bears,
officially a blue-listed "species of concern." Try telling that to 2,000
residents of the Bella Coola Valley on B.C.'s central coast.

"We are living in a siege mentality," protested Gary Shelton, a
long-time Bella Coola Valley resident and author of three best-selling
books on bear attacks. "The bears have taken over, it's that simple. We
used to go out and do things. Now people need to have a dog with them,
bear spray, a firearm."

In 2005, 74-year-old Jack Turner lost his ear during a grizzly attack as
he walked to his daughter's house to feed her dog, also at Hagensborg.
Also in the Bella Coola Valley last October, a grizzly was shot after
killing and burying a roping horse worth $15,000.

Shelton said he has counted 15 different grizzlies in one season feeding
on spawning salmon at a small creek on his 15-hectare property. "You
need to come live here for a year. You just haven't got a clue."

Instead of going after the bears, he said, the government tells people
what to do. "I'm not supposed to feed my dog on my porch, we can't have
bird feeders, you can't cook bacon on Saturday morning with the window
open.

"This is bullshit. People have a right out here to live as they want to
live. At no time in history have grizzly bears and humans ever lived
together in any kind of complacency. It's ridiculous."

It turns out the environment ministry also suspects something should be
done.

"We know this is a chronic conflict area and we're going to take a look
at it," Tony Hamilton, the province's carnivore specialist, said Friday
in Victoria. "I'm committed to take a look at this. The idea of managing
a (grizzly) population at saturation density in a community just doesn't
make sense to us."

The Bella Coola Valley is home to an estimated 60 resident grizzlies, a
figure that could exceed 100, including cubs, in late summer and fall
when the salmon runs draw bears from other nearby areas.

Hamilton doesn't believe grizzly bear numbers are up, per se, in the
Bella Coola area, but feels that loss of habitat as a result of
clear-cutting in the area and a major forest fire in 2004 in Tweedsmuir
Provincial Park may be driving more of them into the settled valley
bottom.

The erection of electric fencing in 2004 at the Bella Coola landfill
also had an impact on the bears. Conservation officers shot and killed
14 grizzlies thought to be conditioned to garbage and unlikely
candidates for relocation.

Hamilton said bear viewing in Tweedsmuir also may be habituating the
bears to people, and potentially making them bolder around sport
fishermen. Park staff are using rubber bullets to keep the bears wary.

Hamilton agreed that while humans are often to blame for bear encounters
in B.C., that doesn't seem to be a major factor in the Bella Coola
Valley. "There's a lot of bears around, including adult females showing
up in the community and literally defending things like fruit trees.
That's indicative of a saturation density."

The number of limited-entry hunting permits in the management sub-zone
that includes the Bella Coola Valley is being increased to five spring
hunts and as many as 17 fall hunts in 2007, up from one spring and three
fall limited-entry hunts in 2006, Hamilton said.

But that may not make much difference in the Bella Coola Valley. Past
experience shows that hunters prefer to kill a grizzly in wilderness
portions of the sub-zone located away from the populated valley.

The success rate on limited-entry grizzly hunts is also extremely small,
in part because hunters who win the permit do not always

follow through with their hunt as planned or just don't find a bear.

Hamilton said the Bella Coola Valley -- including the key tributary, the
Atnarko River -- is heaven on earth for bears: strong spawning runs of
all five Pacific salmon species, and a highly productive flood plain
that includes not just natural vegetation, but also fruit trees,
compost, and livestock.

"You name the ecosystem and the Bella Coola's got it in abundance," he
said. "No wonder we have conflicts."

The freedom-of-information documents also led The Sun to Mark
McCutcheon, who was a foreman with Nechako Reforestation last May on the
Malaput forest service road, about a 2.5-hour drive south of Vanderhoof.


He described how a young grizzly kept showing up for more than a week
and causing a nuisance. It chewed up some of the tree boxes carried by
tree planters but never showed any direct interest in humans. "We had
encounters, 10 to 15 feet away. A couple of people were standing there
and looked up and it was right there and not aggressive."

Still, the bear was shot as a precaution when it stole a backpack and
went into a patch of trees where it was surrounded by at least five
planters. "A bear surrounded by people can be quite a hazard," he said.

McCutcheon estimates he's had more than 500 bear sightings over 15 years
in the tree planting business, but this is the first time he's seen one
shot, evidence that bears usually keep a safe distance from people.

Another incident in the documents occurred last July at a scenic spot
known as Alan's Lookout, on the Alaska Highway, near the one-horse town
of Fireside just south of the Yukon border.

A bicyclist who stopped to pick berries found himself in a confrontation
with two bears.

"The bears knocked over the bike and came after him," the conservation
officer's report read. "Luckily, a camper spotted them and drove between
the biker and the bears and let him climb aboard. . . ."

Several days and a few kilometres away later, the same two bears found
the carcasses of two bison that had been dumped at an old gravel pit,
where they chased away the driver of a Northwest Tel truck.

The bison had been killed in highway accidents and had unfortunately
been "dragged and dropped" there by seasonal provincial park staff and
volunteers, the report said.

One of the more dramatic hunting incidents listed in the documents
involved two hunters at Aylard Creek near Williston Lake north of
Chetwynd in September.

"A grizzly bear jumped up from approximately 25 feet away from both
individuals," the conservation officer's report reads. The bear charged
and the hunter "raised his bolt action rifle and pulled the trigger but
the round misfired. . ." The hunter "tried to reload but was only able
to pull the bolt halfway by the time the bear got to him. . . ." That's
when the hunter "lunged the barrel of the rifle into the bear's mouth."
The hunters managed to kill the bear without suffering injury to
themselves, and later discovered the bear had a food cache 15 metres
down the trail.

Guide-outfitting camps also took their toll on grizzly bears last year.

Gundahoo River Outfitters, operating in the Muncho Lake area of the
Northern Rockies, reported to conservation officers shooting a grizzly
in September that "trashed one of our camps and has charged our
workers."

In October, Larry Warren of Tuchodi River Outfitters, also in the
Northern Rockies, wrote in an e-mail to conservation officers: "We've
had a young grizzly hanging around base camp here. The dogs have chased
it out of camp the last three nights. Last night he showed up again and
proceeded to tear into our cape shed [where skins of trophy animals
killed by hunting clients are stored]. I shot it, a young male, 200
pounds approximately."

In early September, a hunting guide and his Alberta client were at the
Gatho River in the process of removing the cape (skin) from an elk when
they spotted a grizzly on the trail coming towards them, the documents
report.

The guide waved his hands, and the hunter fired a warning shot, but the
bear only approached faster.

At the guide's urging, the hunter fired repeatedly at the grizzly, which
"wandered off to the side." Then a second grizzly emerged. The guide
yelled again, and the bear stopped and went towards the first bear. The
hunter and guide went in the other direction, and left the elk carcass
behind.

They returned the next day and found the dead bear and chewed-up bear.



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