By Michael Platt, Calgary Sun
First posted: Sunday, August 21, 2016 07:00 PM EDT | Updated: Sunday, August 21, 2016 07:33 PM EDT
Happiness is definitely not a warm gun — not when you’re the conservation officer forced to shoot nine bears in three days, all because a town is sloppy, lazy and shortsighted.
Dan Bartol is that officer, and Revelstoke, B.C. the town — and Bartol is clearly livid with what he says is a mountain community basically baiting local bears with easy-access garbage and plentiful fruit trees, leading to a tragic conflict between humans and wildlife.
“The common thread here is garbage and fruit trees, and that’s creating attractants for bears to come in to the town, because there’s nothing to stop them — there’s no deterrent at all,” said Bartol.
“The bears know there’s easy food to be found, and they come down looking for the fruit trees that everyone has to have for some reason, and they get into garbage that’s not secured properly, and then this happens.”
It was Bartol who was forced to publicly shoot a black bear in downtown Revelstoke last week, after a local business left open pails of waste food beside a back-alley dumpster, where the hungry bruin could easily feast.
And that’s exactly the kind of lazy, ignorant behaviour that has Bartol so upset with many Revelstoke residents — because open garbage is basically a death sentence for the bear that finds it.
“It’s especially frustrating when you know how easily it could be avoided,” said Bartol.
“It’s frustrating that this keeps happening.”
Like most bears that start to associate humans with easy food, the bear that found the trash was obviously no longer frightened by people, making it especially dangerous in the crowded centre of town — and even after a confrontation with a local dog, the emboldened bruin refused to stop guarding the easy meal.
And so Bartol was forced to kill the bear, to protect the public and to ensure no further conflict with an animal that posed a threat, all because Revelstoke can’t get its literal crap together.
“There was no choice, “ said Bartol, who is based in neighbouring Golden, B.C..
And that was just one of nine problem bears killed in and around Revelstoke over three days, including a mother bear and two cubs, in what Bartol has described as the worst week of his career — and the carnage is expected to resume this week, after more reports of trash-minded black bears over the weekend.
“I’ve had about a dozen more reports already,” said Bartol.
No provincial conservation officer joins the service hoping to pull the trigger, and Bartol is suffering the consequences of a town that’s failing to protect the wildlife around it, despite plenty of lip-service about being bear aware and environmentally conscious.
Like many other B.C. towns, Revelstoke is failing when it comes to protecting bears from their own natural instinct to find the easiest food source possible, and unlike places like Canmore and Banff in Alberta, where fruit trees have been removed and all garbage is restricted to bear proof containers, Revelstoke’s relaxed attitude is killing wildlife.
It’s all words, and little action.
“The city encourages residents to be responsible with securing garbage, obeying bylaws, recycling, harvesting fruit and composting,” wrote acting Revelstoke Mayor Trevor English in a statement to the local media following last week’s bear deaths.
But as Bartol will tell you, the reality is a town where some people do their utmost to save the bears, only to have their efforts nullified by sloppy neighbours and businesses, who leave food waste in easily accessed or open containers, and allow fruit trees to become laden with tasty bear bait.
Only one Revelstoke neighbourhood has bear-proof bins, and despite a remarkable success record of zero nuisance bears in Johnson Heights, the town of 7,000 has failed to follow through in implementing the same program for other homes.
Like Fernie, B.C., which killed more than 20 black bears in 2015, Revelstoke is relying on public education, when it’s obvious zero tolerance and harsh fines is the answer.
Until Revelstoke acts to protect the wildlife around it, it will be up to officers like Bartol to protect Revelstoke — and that means more dead bears.
“It’s outrageous,” said Bartol.
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