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Three bears shot by COs in one day in Squamish, two at busy mall

Cougars spotted at alice lake during FranFondo
DEADLY DAY Three Squamish bears deemed a risk to public safety had to be removed all in the same day.

Three bears were shot in Squamish in one day this week by conservation officers.

One was killed after being caught in a bear trap in Valleycliffe on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 9, and two others were shot within an hour of each other at the busy Squamish Station Mall that evening.

"The conflict (with these bears) had been ongoing for the duration of the summer," said Sgt. Peter Busink of the Conservation Officer Service field office in Squamish. "It was a very, very lousy day... I had to sit down with my staff and go through it because it's more than just frustrating. It takes its toll on the officers... you live in a Bear Smart Community and people still don't get the message."

The Valleycliffe bear had been helping itself to fruit on residents' trees, lessening its fear of people.

"Its behaviour was unacceptable in terms of the public safety risk," Busink said.

"It was there because of the unpicked and unmanaged fruit trees. There were garbage attractants as well, but we came to understand that the bear was after the fruit attractants."

He said several dangerous wildlife protection orders had been issued to residents in Valleycliffe when the trap was set.

The other two bears were enormous, both older males weighing over 400 lbs., Busink said. One charged a conservation officer and Busink said he had "no doubt" the CO would have been mauled had the bear not been killed. Busink said he personally had not himself experienced such aggressive action by a bear in his nine years as a CO.

"It was a nice Sunday evening and there were lots of people around. One bear basically put its paws and nose right up on the window (of a local restaurant). I saw a picture of it. Its ears were back, it looked like if there wasn't any barrier there that it would come right through the window," Busink said.

Busink said the service had issued a Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order and a violation ticket under the Wildlife Act to the restaurant, though he would not name it.

"People still aren't understanding the link between bear attractants and the destruction of bears," he said. "People need to take responsibility for their wildlife... for the public safety of themselves, their family and their neighbours."

This brings to 10 the number of bears shot in 2012 within the Municipality of Squamish; this excludes five others killed by collisions with vehicles. In contrast, two bears have been shot by COs in Whistler this year, lower than average, said Busink.

Meg Toom of Squamish Bear Aware said she was discouraged by the numbers since only one bear was shot in 2011.

"They were high-conflict bears, very, very habituated to humans and reliant on non-natural food. It's the same message we've been saying for seven-plus years... just trying to get the education out to people that the more they feed on non-natural food, the more they are habituated to human activity. It's just a vicious cycle," Toom said.

Meanwhile, the District of Squamish and the Conservation Officer Service issued a warning of cougar activity around Alice Lake.

Toom said two cougars were spotted near the refreshment station set up for the GranFondo on the Sea to Sky Highway at Alice Lake on Saturday, Sept. 8, with other sightings in the area the previous two days.

"There was no aggression, they were just slightly habituated to people," Toom said.

Conservation officers and the RCMP were called in after people manning the station observed the cougars watching them.

There was a Sept. 8 sighting also on the trail "White Rabbit" which is within the trail network that runs between Cat Lake and Alice Lake Provincial Park. Reports suggest that this is possibly a mother with one or two kittens.

Report wildlife conflicts by calling a 24-hour hotline at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on cell phones.

Turn to page 28 of the Sept. 13 edition to read how one conservation officer felt after killing a bear.