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Bear, two cubs killed after encounter with bike rider on Lost Lake trails

Tranquilized cub died after fall from a tree
CONFLICT This 10-year-old sow — known to local bear researchers as Michelle — was euthanized along with her two cubs early this week. Photo submitted.

A 10-year-old sow and her two bear cubs were euthanized earlier this week after an encounter with a bike rider on the Lost Lake trails.

The sow allegedly swatted at the rider, causing her to fall from her bike, said Sgt. Dean Miller with the Conservation Officer Service (COS).

"This, of course, gets the (COS) to respond to this kind of situation, where a bear has shown some aggressive behaviour, (but) it was undetermined whether there was actual contact made," Miller said.

The family unit was well known to officers — Miller said the COS received 13 complaints over the last two months.

"And in looking at incidents that were reported by the public in that Lost Lake area, the bear exhibited an extreme habituation to people — like absolute loss of fear of people — and beyond that, there was some bluff charging involved," Miller said.

"We have to look at it as aggressive, threatening behaviour to the public."

One of the cubs died after being tranquilized and falling from a tree, Miller confirmed; the second was euthanized.

"The officer who did this has never had this happen before in his career, but it does happen where you get a bear darted and he's got the immobilization drugs in him, and he goes higher up the tree and just falls wrong," Miller said.

The COS has processes to mitigate such incidents, such as using "catch bags" to catch falling cubs, "but they're not always accurate because the bears, sometimes when they fall they hit a branch and deflect off of it, and we've had officers get injured catching bears, because this could be a 30-pound object falling from 30 feet," he added.

"So it usually works because they're very, very strong and tough animals, but in this case, it passed away."

The second cub was euthanized at the recommendation of a COS biologist, Miller said, due to its established pattern of human habituation, and the probability that this would continue even after rehab.

Miller said people who encounter bears should walk away and call COS to harass the bear away from the area.

"We want there to be a negative association between wildlife and humans," he said.

"We really want to spread common sense and a little bit of a healthy respect that these are very strong animals."

Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society, said animal care protocols should be revisited.

"We had a cub die a couple of weeks ago while being captured at the Ironman event and that, in my view, could have been avoided as well," she said.

"There are certain animal-care standards in Canada, and it's a whole set of protocols that are written out. It's a document that is used by numerous different agencies... should we be tranquilizing family units in trees? Because we know what the likely outcome is going to be, so should we even be doing that?"

Dolson said she asked COS to close the trail some time ago to help protect the sow and her cubs, but no action was taken.

"She's 10 years old, her name is Michelle, she's been living there for 10 years, and now a bike trail has been put in her home range, and the bottom line is that bears and bikes don't mix well," Dolson said.

"In these particular circumstances we need to be willing to take proactive measures to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place. This was a known situation and more should have been done. In a way, we're lucky that's all that happened to the person, right?"

Four Whistler bears have been destroyed because of conflict with humans this year, Dolson said.

"As of today, 263 bears have been killed since 1990 as a result of preventable conflict. That's a big number," she said, adding that it's hard to know exactly how many bears still call the Whistler valley home.

"We used to say maybe 80 to 100, and it was probably about 120, because there were some transient bears passing through," she said.

"(Today) I would say between maybe 30 to 40. It's hard to know."