In a landmark case, a Whistler woman received a combined $60,000 fine last week for feeding bears from the backyard of her Kadenwood home in the summer of 2018, which she believed was ultimately helping the animals.
Last Wednesday, Sept. 29, North Vancouver Provincial Court handed down what the Conservation Office Service (COS) said was the highest overall penalty ever imposed under B.C.’s Wildlife Act. The majority of the penalty will go to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.
The investigation was launched in July 2018 after the COS received an anonymous complaint claiming that residents of the Kadenwood neighbourhood had been deliberately feeding bears.
A sow and two cubs that were fed in Kadenwood were killed by the Crown agency in September 2018 after displaying “very troubling” behaviour on the scene, conservation officers said at the time.
In a visit to the Kadenwood home on Sept. 18, 2018, two conservation officers spoke with Stevikova’s spouse and co-accused, Oliver Dugan, who told them the bears “used the property to travel through” and that he thought they felt “protected from the construction in the area.” (Charges against Dugan were eventually stayed.)
On that day, officers observed two yearlings on the property, two cubs in a nearby tree, and a sow. Dugan reportedly opened the property’s metal gate, and officers watched as the adult bear approached him. Subsequent attempts to haze the sow were unsuccessful.
The bears had also caused damage to the garage and a cedar fence, as well as the home on several occasions.
Local grocery clerks interviewed by the COS said Stevikova purchased up to 10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and 15 dozen eggs on a weekly basis to feed the bears. The adventure schoolteacher had reportedly been leaving the attractants out over a period of roughly three months. Witnesses, most of whom worked in the area, reported to investigators seeing apples or carrots “strewn about” on different parts of the property, with often up to five bears observed onsite at a time. They also overheard Stevikova calling the bears by name.
“Some people started fearing for their safety, and found themselves unexpectedly and uncomfortably close to the bears,” Provincial Court Judge Lyndsay Smith said in relaying her sentence.
According to the court proceedings, Stevikova noticed the bears “looked skinny” and, by feeding them, believed she was preventing the public from calling the COS, which she thought would ultimately lead to their deaths.
“We’ve got a situation where … Stevikova chooses, rather than to contact British Columbia conservation officers or the phone numbers with regard to protection of wildlife in the Whistler area, she chooses to not do that because she doesn’t think she’s going to get the answers she wants, so she talks to her own unnamed expert,” said Smith in a May 26 hearing.
The COS has been contending for years with a general reluctance among some in the community to report wildlife incidents, while critics and conservationists have argued the Crown agency is overly reliant on lethal force.
“Bears are tolerated by the community, much more than in other locations,” Smith said on Sept. 29.
In a statement posted online Friday, Oct. 1, COS Sgt. Simon Gravel expressed hope that the penalty will “deter others from similar activity.”
“The primary concern of the COS is public safety. Illegally feeding or placing attractants to lure dangerous wildlife, such as bears, is an extremely dangerous activity,” he wrote in the post. “Once bears learn to associate humans with food, it creates a public safety risk.”
In a relatively rare joint submission, the Crown and defence counsel had earlier asked for a smaller $10,000 fine to be imposed, which took into consideration, among other factors, Stevikova’s early guilty plea, her high moral culpability and the number of days the offences took place. Ultimately, Smith found the amount didn’t satisfy the public interest.
Stevikova and Dugan reportedly split their time between Whistler and Switzerland.
A condensed version of this story originally appeared online on Friday, Oct. 1.